The Other Side of Mt. Thunderegg: CMG vs. Open Book
By Thundermark Abraham & Thunderdom Sinacola | 15 April 2006
In 1995, a young man named Will Georgantas recorded a thick collection of four-track bedroom pop. Dubbing himself Thunderegg, Will produced twenty cassette tape copies of then opus, Universal Nut. Despite major distribution catastrophes, Will trundled on, recording two more batches of songs, later released as New England Music (1996) and Personnel Envelo-file (1997). When eponymous Thunderegg surfaced in a run of five copies come latter-1997, Will realized he had a lot of material and not much of a chance at reaching a larger audience. Even though 2000’s The Envelope Pushes Back milked the benefits of CD-R technology, the completion of Open Book: The Collected Thunderegg, 1995-2004 in 2005 has become Georgantas’ infamous albatross. Pitched as the “massive, unprecendented, and above all efficient reissue of the entire Thunderegg back catalog,” Open Book consists of 213 songs. That’s almost nine hours of music. Now, finally, Thunderegg’s impossibly rare canon has been remastered by Carl Saff (Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar) into one massive Data CD-ROM. The package includes a complete lyric book, song index, first line index, assorted doodles, and a lot of sass. Feel the weight of it in your hands and then on your shoulders. Get sloshed and continue.
Beginning at 11:00 AM on a Friday, and sequestered in two different countries, Dom and Mark, of legal age, discuss the merits of Thunderegg over the duration of this collection’s 8½ hours of music. What follows are several excerpted pieces from the phone conversation between these two intrepid critics. Settle in. We did.
[11:03 AM: Universal Nut (1995)]
Dom: I hope this isn’t all dude-with-acoustic. Aren’t there three guys in this band? And what’s with the white noise at the end of “Pillowcase?”
Mark: Already re-signified as Fanfare for Mark’s All-Day Scotch-Fest.
Dom: I’m locking myself in my bedroom, banishing all natural light, and gin-festing. Drinking game?
Mark: Like, every time we hear a crash cymbal? Um.8 albums on a CD-R—
Dom: Well, 7 albums and one of demos—
Mark: Whoa! Not only is there an index of song titles, there’s an index of first lines!
Dom: Thunderegg is music’s self-synecdoche. Or music’s onanism. You have favorites?
Mark: Amidst this baffling, annotated libretto for The Collected And Eventually Discarded Initial Ideas Of Stephen Malkmus? Let’s see. “The call to cut down on reflection and get some direction?”
Dom: I just graduated high school and gave up on Pretty Hate Machine!
Mark: “Why I smoked up on the deck if it would leave this night bereft?”
Dom: “Bereft” is totally bandied with abandon by high school poets because it sounds big and rhymes well. Pauses. Oh-Kay, I admit it, I never gave up on Pretty Hate Machine. I knew this girl? From work? Oh-Kay? She said, like, she dated Trent Reznor when she lived in New Orleans?
Mark: “You looked up at the sky—”
Dom: And said he was really short and stalked her. Which was somehow inextricably linked to the size of her breasts?
Mark: “—and the clouds were a guy?”
Mark: Hey—if it was Paul Rudd, I’d be happy.
Dom: …it’s so dark in here…
Mark: Whispering. Let Will Georgantas be your nightlight.
[1:17 PM: New England Music (1996)]
Dom: Not sure if I should be fascinated with the heft of it or dread its execution.
Mark: Is “dreft” a word? Thunderegg might make it one.
Dom: For something so unabashedly “Open,” we’re robbed of a lot of tracks “[d]ue to space considerations.” And in the booklet, when Georgantas provides that sketch of a plan to remaster all his cassette tape albums, “in the interest of archival preservation?” More than making money? Or, shit, we can assume, more than crafting a solid statement? New England Music and Personnel Envelo-file, these each have seven songs omitted. And THEN we’re constantly getting toss-away junk like “Tallis Canon” or “Bad Dog” or that fucking casio beat?
Mark: Shh! I can hear my brain incinerating.
Dom: Yes. Maybe the gin’s already picking on my dolor-gland, but I can’t wrap my head around this.
Mark: Dom! This is your New Haven education, featuring Thunderwill on guitar, Thunderjake on bass, and Thunderwoodpile on —
Mark: Drummer’s name is Keith “Woodpile” Woodfin. What? I’m already in the dark. Am I supposed to ignore the Internet too?
Dom: Knowing their names isn’t helping me deal with—
Mark: The secret is in the moments, maybe? The Spanish guitar picking in “Unaware?” Reverb-leaden musical interluding “Exchange St.?” Faux hymnal?
Dom: Totally recorded on Exchange Street. With typewriter beats. I’m hoping we get the evolution of a Thunderegg mythos to pick through and grin all over.
Mark: Let’s wait until at least 1997 before we get all excited about being able to discern the punch lines to his inside jokes.
Dom: Sometimes he takes on the shroud of a New England Johnny Cash, sometimes he reaches for Elvis Costello’s timbre.
Mark: .but then gives up and starts another song. He does seem to wallow in staccato flourishes like Elvis Costello. Like maybe This Year’s Model?
Dom: Yeah, I got that.
Mark: Except this year’s model is never as good as the original? I wonder if he’ll interchange “holy” and “holey.” Or “wholly.”
Dom: I’m just getting the impression that he’s wandering blankly through his own ennui: the undergrad relationships, the post-college job failures, the DREAMS shattered. He feels trapped by the locality of his life; he defines the bounds of that locality. But it’s like, as a listener removed from that locality, curiously unable to sympathize with that locality simply because of its alienating insider-localness, should we care enough to get through an emo lyric or two?
Mark: Or three. His inaction and his guilt could be thematically compelling if they didn’t end up stagnating intradermally. It’s a semiotic clusterfuck of inverse signifiers; reading a diary that has had names, dates, places, and things blacked out, so it’s just a list of secrets, all without anchors.
Dom: And all written with the same pen in the same mood on the same sheet of paper. If this is meant as a cohesive musical statement, it’s impossible to digest as one. Maybe a consistent statement?
Mark: Ah yes. “Consistent.” That’s PC for “adequate.”
Dom: But, I mean, even with all the different instrumentation and sounds, the songs seem like clones brought up by different families—this year’s model is EVERY model. Every good moment is incidental to that model. I’m afraid that. Pause. Can we assume The Envelope Pushes Back doesn’t sound much different than this?
Mark: Every time I make an assumption. Pause. Don’t you love how he keeps deep-sixing his own arrangements, like, right when you lean forward to smile? “Rack & Pinion?” That concluding duel guitar squall is beautiful, but when it fades and that fake clapping starts? I mean, sure, Thunderegg, deflate your melodramatic/hyperbolic balloon, but don’t drop an anvil on me while I’m holding it.
Dom: The soft tragedy of boom and bust. And then comes a fucking fantastic melody! “Sparkling Wine Regrets,” eh? “Heyeee-ey-ee-ey,” and so forth.
Mark: Now see? That is a great song! And Dom? I feel very special now that I have heard you sing.
Dom: I wonder how many times he’s drawn that Thunderegg symbol.
Mark: Let me check. There’s bound to be an index for that very inquiry.
Dom: So, like, a million times. Dom pauses to count. Wanna see a drawing I made? If you right-click, you can use it as your desktop’s wallpaper, and then always remember this day. Here, I’ll e-mail.
Dom: Ya see? I used a ruler.
Mark: And Luddites everywhere howl with disdain. I want to hear about the time he tattooed the symbol over his heart using Bic blue ink, a needle, thread, and the leather strap to his mother’s imitation designer purse. In every age, a Thunderegg is born!
Dom: The doodle of the THUNDERCOLLECTEDSTORIESOFJOHNCHEEVER is pretty funny.
Mark: I snickered, yeah. At least he doesn’t require his moniker’s constant capitalization.
Dom: If that were the case, we’ve already lost.
Mark: Snerk. Case.
[2:30 PM: Personnel Envelo-file .]
Dom: Have you ever heard of Logan Whitehurst, Mark? The drummer for Velvet Teen?
Mark: Is that the ex-keyboardist from Faith No More?
Dom: That’s Imperial Teen, loser.
Mark: Hey! What’s wrong with FNM? You eighties kids just don’t—
Dom: Ahem. Velvet Teen had an album in 2002 produced by Chris Walla, put out something in 2004, all released through this label called Slowdance. Then Whitehurst released a solo album in 2003 with his made-up band the Junior Science Club. Was called Goodbye, My 4-Track and has this killer song “Me and the Snowman” and another great: “Happy Noodle Vs. Sad Noodle.” Shit, I want to listen to it now.
Mark: Wow, Dom. I totally wrote that fascinating history down.
Dom: Aren’t you transcribing this?
Mark: [Pause.] Shit. I’ll totally have to write that fascinating history down. [Muttering under breath.] Anyway, no dice.
Dom: I think he’s a better illustrator than he is a musician. One of the best things about Velvet Teen albums is their art. He’s got a ton of dirty drawings on his website. But, the solo album is plain off-the-wall; the lyrics are clever, culturally relevant, full of allusions making them products of their time while referring constantly to all kinds of genres. The melodies are simple but catchier than you’d expect.
Mark: So, you see a striking similarity to Thunderegg.
Dom: Well, yeah, but in Whitehurst I think I see what Georgantas could be. They have the same sense of humor, wrenching out guffaws from meaningless absurdity while elevating ephemeral, sometimes esoteric ideas into anthropological “truth,” but Whitehurst doesn’t struggle with his obvious identity. He has a sidekick that’s a plastic snowman—
Mark: Like Billy Joe? I’m so jealous.
Dom: He doesn’t kick it or anything. He treats it like a friend. Sometimes the Snowman wears the pants in the relationship, even.
Mark: Oh. Like Wilson? It all devolves into gimmickry for me.
Dom: Right, but Whitehurst wore his gimmicks on his sleeve, and then backed it all up with one awesome melody after another. Plus, it helped that he just had a knack for cute and nimble turns of phrase.
Mark: What you’re describing doesn’t sound much different at all from Thunderegg. Besides the fact that I wouldn’t call “cap size/capsize” or “holed/hold” clever turns of phrase.
Dom: Well, exactly. Thunderegg’s just trying to be more, trying to break free from his Weenish/Phishish antic underpinnings, getting so goddamned close, and then, like, losing it to a pseudo-rockabilly tune called “(I Was an) Intern at Spin.”
Mark: Shit’s just sloppy. I mean, Ween is Ween, but it’s not like Ween ever tries to transcend Ween.
Dom: “Ween” is fun to say when I’m drunk. Muffled belch.
Mark: Hee! Ween. “Intern” isn’t as outright annoying as “Windmill,” though, which takes a page from juke-joint This Heat cover bands.
Dom: Do those exist?
Mark: We could start one.
Dom: I don’t think I want to—
Mark: C’mon. Toughen up. You’ve got sand in your unspeakables.
Dom: I do cry when I drink.
Mark: Especially when you drink with a Maritimer. Good news, though. With “Bad Dog Part 2” I think we can start calling ourselves Thundereggheads.
Dom: Because we’ve heard the first “Bad Dog” and can debate the merits of one against the other? Contextualize the purpose of each horrendous sound sample and then discuss the destructuralization of contemporary DIY pop tropes in regard to the passage of two years time?
Mark: Mark would answer “yes,” and that would have been a total burn. Drunk Mark, however, is just astounded at the coital dog noises, and wonders if this is some weird Cape Cod serial tribute to “The Torture Never Stops.”
Dom: Drunk Dom thinks it’s funny you used “coital” and “dog” so close together. Dom would have been horrified, but I totally doused that fucker with spirits.
Mark: Can I turn your name around and call you “Mod?” Would that be relevant?
Dom: I do appreciate how he introduces new instruments slowly, but surely. First a tinny beat, then New England Music brings in a careful piano, then Personnel Envelo-file hides a harmonica behind “My Mad Hatter’s” punishing processed riffs.
Mark: I don’t think, even when remastered, this could be dubbed “punishing.” Do I need to mail you Suicide? Besides, every new, original moment is brought forward at such a snail’s pace, it’s completely inconsequential.
Dom: He takes his sweet stoner time.
Mark: As do his characters. Everyone gathers around for a “FAT BOWL.”
Dom: It’s funny how his voice amps when he says that. Vox can sound so pale, squeaky, and overly literate, but drugs are what really transform him.
Mark: You mean “Myrtle ’95?”
Dom: Yeah, rollicking, chopping, and fuzzy, but he just can’t find the right niche for his voice. And then I can’t accept the song seriously. It doesn’t mean the song has to be somber, but I think I’d rather have a concise pop song over a curiosity.
Mark: The next song’s about a trucker ghost that smokes bowls with modern travelers. “It’s hard to play and sing at the same time.” Marijuana: Metonymy for the Listless.
Dom: What were we talking about?
Mark: Let’s pretend we were on-topic and ask: “why even include something like ‘The Technomancer?’” Why am I listening to this painful experiment?
Dom: Yeah, really, that was the lowest point so far. At least it’s only 40-some seconds long.
Mark: Too long.
Dom: Aw jeez…I’m losing my place here. I was going to say that I enjoyed the slapdash chunky coda to “Quasi-Fascination,” and how its inflection sounded much like a tune in the hands of Isaac Brock, but then I thought, “It’s only 1997, that comparison won’t work.”
Mark: But Lonesome Crowded West came out in ’97.
Dom: Yeah, I know, but secluded in here, being in this spot since Thunderegg’s 1995, and then not having heard any Modest Mouse myself until, eh, 1999, I got confused.
Mark: You can’t be serious.
Dom: I’m conflating all of these mythoi, losing the purpose.
Mark: It’s probably all the gin you’re drinking. Eat a piece of bread.
Dom: I’m drinking a lot of water. I peed in my first cup and I literally filled it to the rim. Meniscus.
Mark: I was just saying to a friend what an awesome word “meniscus” was. But not when transformed into “many cues,” “menace cuz,” “Dennis the Meniscus,” or whatever Thunderegg would do with it.
Dom: Um…I just thought of something.
Mark: What happens when you need to shit?
Mark: I went before. You’re doomed, Dom.
[3:37 PM: Thunderegg .]
Mark: Weird Al Yankovertones?
Dom: “Like A Truck” is so punk. So is “There Should Be Wheels On Everything.” Pogues-punk.
Dom: I meant that sarcastically, of course.
Mark: No, but, seriously. Is this “album” like the most punk thing ever?
Dom: If it’s punk at all, it’s punk-wanking.
Mark: But, like, isn’t the punkest thing of all to create art as an object that’s impossible to think about? Like Metal Box? Or Freak Out!? Open Book is. it’s a big fucking loogie.
Dom: I guess in that sense it’s sort of a climax, or the illogical extent of the CD format. A punktasm?
Mark: Punkgasm. It’s not just an assault on the music industry. It’s like an assault on all of our personal music industries. Here we are, listening to 8-and-a-half hours of music, drunk, wondering what the merits of individual “songs” are? “Cop On A Horse” is mentioned as one of his “hits” on his website, Dom! What do these terms even mean? There’s just no way to conceive of it; it’s like the Internet in album form.
Dom: Doesn’t the sheer enormity of this defy a logical leap to the immediate politico-musical ramifications?
Mark: Maybe. But when I hear the Full House sentiments of “He Don’t Treat Her Right” or the magic-D-chord-finger-hammers of “In Defense of Inertia” or the mean/seen/scene puns of “You Are So Mean To Me” I…this has to be a joke right? A big punchline to capital “M” music? Punklomaniacal ramblings from a post-music god? I may just be drunk, but I think I love Thunderegg—I just hate most of his songs.
Dom: This gin allows me to agree, even though I think you’re full of shit.
Mark: Going before totally didn’t help.
[4:46 PM: Powder To The People .]
Mark: Now, see, it may just be the Cardhu talking, but the first few songs I actually enjoyed.
Dom: This album is way shorter than the rest, but has even more songs. Thunderegg’s maturation is like some unholy/wholly battle between quantities, items, and time.
Mark: Well, I was going to say. I enjoyed them, but then they just seemed to keep disguising themselves as new versions of themselves later on the album. And I also like how the songs marked as “demo” sound no different in terms of quality than the songs unmarked. Where are the non-demo versions?
Dom: The libretti suggests they appear on The Envelope Pushes Back.
Mark: So…um…he kept them as demos for two years? Are they demos in hindsight? Or planned that way? I’m so confused. It’s like.have you ever watched like an entire TV series on DVD in a really short space of time?
Mark: Well, like, even if it’s really good, when you watch them so close together, without the external-but-critical space of expectancy that comes week to week, plot developments just seem to come way too fast?
Dom: I tried to do that with Good Times once, and I think I blacked out when J.J. thought he had an STD.
Mark: Yeah, so when I was watching Buffy—
Mark: Whispering. Thunderegg is telling you all of my secrets.
[5:40 PM: In Yanistin .]
Dom: Well, I like In Yanistin the best, if only for it’s megalomaniacal tendencies.
Mark: But to consider that album singularly—any of these albums singularly—is to consider the imposing “might” of all these tracks.
Dom: 43 tracks is overkill. And the last 6-minute aleatoric noise track is possibly the most annoying thing any musician can do. I’m stepping on your toes here, Noise Boy, but I don’t give a shit about “subtle, metaphysical invocations” or whatever the fuck. I’m not going to listen closely, after 42 tracks, to crickets and a car or two driving by. Could have been half that length, a quarter of that length, and had the same idea. Fuck. That.
Mark: “Theme for Gin-Fueled Vitriol”
Dom: “Mark’s Consolation 98 (demo)”
Mark: It didn’t console me. And each no longer than 45 seconds each.
Dom: Shit, right when the sitar got going, too! We should totally start a fan club.
Mark: I am so way ahead of you. I drew some pictures of what the first meeting would be like. Check your email, dude.
Mark: Come on, dude—that’s how we Thundereggheads roll!
[6:30 PM: The Envelope Pushes Back .]
Dom: Are we supposed to believe that this album marks the emergence of a full Thunderegg band? I mean, alright, I went to his myspace—
Mark: Are his “hits” playable?
Dom: —and he lists a whole smattering of musicians collaborating on new recordings. But then the “new” recording is that song about him going on a diet.
Mark: “If I Went On a Diet?” Isn’t there a whole album from a couple of years ago not included?
Dom: So. His big band versions sound eerily similar to his home recordings.
Mark: There should be a comma after that “So.”
Dom: Mark, don’t fucking tell me how to punctuate during a phone conversation. I’ll punctuate you.
Mark: Well—if you were Paul Rudd, I’d be happy.
Dom: Sorry. I could never be mad at you. I just want to sleep.
Mark: Anyway, besides a slide guitar, a sharper drum track, and the usually above-average background vocals, this “band” sounds as Thunderegg as ever.
Dom: The worst background vocal arrangements are better than the best lead vocals. What’s-his-name? Jake Fournier? Thunderjake.
Mark: I’m Thunderdepressed.
Dom: We’re so close! It just so happens that the envelope is pushing back with Thunderfiremenhoses.
[7:31 PM: Sweetest One .]
Dom: Yuh huh?
Mark: What do you think Thunderegg did all those years between 2000 and 2004?
Dom: Drew all those symbols? [Pause.] How do we sum this up?
Mark: Well, I’m not sure we even heard a crash symbol, but my scotch is gone.
Dom: You know, it really was kind of not that bad. I would get high with Will Georgantas. If he had a Nintendo DS, I’d let my Nintendog romp around with his Nintendog. I have a pug and his name is Doody.
Mark: Yeah. It was…okay.
Dom: “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad Doooooooog.”
Mark: That’s what you remember?