Swim Herschel Swim Skeleton 6: RBUG

I Wish I Had a Raygun
cover illustration and design by Merkley???

Many of you have asked for original art for I Wish I Had a Raygun and this was it. This is a scan done by RIch, the original drummer of the J-card for the cassette.

This song was guaranteed to turn the party into a huge pit of mosh. When we fired this up, the crowds went nuts. This recording captures a harried version of the vocals and frenetic guitar chuckas. When we started recording the cassette, we’d never actually heard the lyrics to most of the songs. Sure, we could make out the melody, but the words? Forget it. From 1989 until mid-1991, I don’t think I ever could make out lyrics while we were playing live, including rehearsals. It wasn’t until the later shows that we paid for better sound.

During the spring of 1992, we were going to try to make a video to help us get a contract with a label. At that time, ska bands were not a high priority for record labels. Imagine! The video shoot was crazy. We put on a show at the old Osmond Studios (I have no idea what it’s called now) in Orem, Utah. “RBUG” was the song we chose to shoot the video for as it seemed to provide the most topical, compelling story possibilities. This was right before the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

The video shoot was billed as a show as well, and it was packed. The door money indicated that we had probably 1,200 people show up. I would guess a couple hundred more, given the way the door was run for that show. At that time the studio owners were renting out the main stage of the studio to a local company who would turn the studio into a dance club. The guys who were shooting the video knew the studio people and arranged for us to have a Saturday night to shoot the video. Bear in mind, there was nothing to in the Provo/Orem metroplex during those days aside from watching movies, dry humping and hosting burping contests. Dance clubs, a mainstay of the 80s had come and gone, but there were always people trying to start another one up. Provo and Orem lived then (and possibly live now) in a state of denial about college students. They didn’t seem to realize that they were/are both college towns. Whenever a dance club opened, it was the place to be. For most of the out of state students who arrived in August and left in April every year, Provo was undoubtedly weirder than it was for me, a northerner from an equally Mormon, but slightly less insane town in Utah. That said, Provo is pretty weird.

Tangent about the Provo/Orem “scene” in 1992 follows:
The studio didn’t secure permits and zoning variances to allow for dancing or live shows. When the Osmonds built the studio in the late 70s, it was in the middle of farmland. As Orem grew, the neighborhood around the studio was one of the nicer areas (I have no idea if that is still the case) of Orem. But the planning commission didn’t do a very good job of foreseeing how quickly the landscape around the studio would change. After the video shoot, the Orem planning commission was trying to shut down the club usage of the studio, which effectively killed the last good venue we could safely put on shows in that part of the state. Me and Merkley attended the planning commission meeting dedicated to discussing the safety hazards and zoning problems. At that point in my life, I was so done with Provo, with the church and the lack of desire for anything remotely outside the safety-bubble-norm that the Mormon culture demanded that I couldn’t help but snicker my way through the meeting. It was a scene straight out of Footloose. Unfortunately, neither Merkley nor I were Kevin Bacon and the club runners said some really stupid things in really stupid ways. The homeowners were repped, in beautiful irony, by a lawyer who was a relation of Merkley. The lawyer had prepared a bound presentation defending why they wanted the club shut down. I’m not sure I possess the ability to portray in words the energy in that room and how insane people sounded. From my admittedly foggy memory:

  • “I found six, SIX cans of beer in the dumpster behind the studio.”
  • “There is an alochol & drug recovery center across the street. I hate to think what kind of message we are sending by having a dance club so close.
  • “When we bought the property and built our neighborhoods, we wanted to be safe from the kind of people who go to these kinds of clubs.”

It was ridiculous. People stated outright lies about music, bands, art and the damage that they do. At one point, I believe I muttered, “Bullshit” under my breath, not in the smartass way but in the “I can’t fucking believe this bullshit” way and was told by one of the commissioners that we didn’t need language like that in the meeting. I wanted to say, “Wake up! Your kids will one day be the ones wanting to get out of the house and do something! We don’t need thought like this in a community where every year 20-30,000 college-age people come to live.”

Never mind the rehab center with recovering drug addicts, it’s the BEER CANS THAT ARE EVIL. BEER! EVIL! The conversation turned racist, xenophobic and even more ludicrous. I think it was this meeting that caused me to realize that if Provo/Orem was the epitome of Mormondom, I didn’t belong. Over the years, this decision has borne out repeatedly and it took a couple more years before I was out for good and a few more after that where I could talk about it without getting angry. While I wish my Mormon friends the best and hope they find the happiness they desire inside the faith, I’ve been happier outside. So much happier. I digress.
End tangent.

Somewhere there are 8mm rolls of uncut film, poorly shot and badly processed that show snippets of our performances. I think we shot the song four or five times and spaced it with other songs so the crowd wouldn’t get bored. To prepare for the shoot/show, Merkley created a set that was amazing. We rented (prior to knowing that we’d be charged) a huge scrim/backdrop painted to look like curtains open at an old time theater. Merkley had a 50s car that he drove onto the stage. It was the first time we’d played in a setting like that and we had a blast.

We didn’t have proper barricades up front, so once we started playing the whole stage moved back about 6 inches. Patatomic, the third and final Herschel drummer, had a look I’ll never forget. I think I told him he needed to calm down for the shoot, even though there was no usable footage, and none showing the terror. The only footage I saw that looked even close to good was high speed black and white slow motion footage shot from a scaffolding above the stage. I’m sure there’s a VHS tape out there with some of that show, but I don’t have it. I wish I did so y’all could see that set and the crowd.

Anyway, “RBUG” stands for Racism Bad Unity Good. I loved playing this song fast and loose. There are two hugely sour notes I played that I should have fixed and didn’t.

Production Notes
The organ sound on this was one I programmed specifically for Swim Herschel Swim songs and helped in the christening of my keyboard the “Cheesemaster 2000″, a reference from an 80s Paul Schafer joke on Late Night with David Letterman. I made a fake logo and taped it to the D-50, covering the Roland logo. After a show a kid asked me if the keyboard was custom made for me. I smiled and said yes.

This was another of the initial rush of songs we wrote when the band started and it has the insane energy that we felt when we played live.

I’ve tried to bring out some bottom end to this song, there was virtually none on the original cassette. Thanks for staying with me this far. Talk talk talk.

Direct Download – Swim Herschel Swim – I Wish I Had a Raygun – RBUG – Remastered, MP3, 320kbps constant