Sunday, November 19, 2017

Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette

Some good Samaritan uploaded this whole cassette to

A bunch of these Passed Normal compilations came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Normal referring to Normal, Illinois. But it has a double meaning, because the compilations are way past normality too.

Back in the early '90s, a friend of mine found a copy of Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette in a 25-cent bin at Reckless Records in Chicago during one of our record-buying expeditions, and thereafter it became part of the "soundtrack of our lives," as they say. If you ever travel back in time to Muncie, Indiana, in the 1990s so you can work at a shitty full-time retail job while also going to school full time, then you'll want to have this music on hand.

The first song is also the best: Scott Lucas' "Butt-Plug." Its inspired ugliness is mesmerizing, with its fuzz bass, metronomic drum loop, bleating harmonica, and disgusting lyrics. Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens, in his liner notes to the Apartments' first album, talks about the importance of the "beauty and impact of first lines" in songs, and "Butt-Plug" has a great first line: "I used to be a Christian man / but now I'm just a slug."

As the first line of the first song on the compilation, these words portend the degeneration and decay to come. The whole compilation is a delirious mess, but I have my favorites.

The Meek Band's "Black Dog" is just a cassette recording of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" that stops and starts every two bars, more or less, punctuated with atonal bass noodling and arhythmic drumming. It's a live recording bookended with inspired heckling (some hick in the audience shouting "I heard that!" and "Fuckin' boo!"), and proves that sampling other songs is not only artistically viable but also sometimes results in works that surpass the originals. 

The Amazing Ron & Renee's version of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is simply the best version of that oft-recorded song. Their out-of-tune, out-of-sync warbling expresses the main idea of the song better than Paul McCartney did, because he sang it so sweetly and sentimentally that it's possible for the listener to focus solely on the beautiful past and ignore the miserable present. The Amazing Ron & Renee, on the other hand, recognize and amplify the song's gist: We are broken and futureless, living in the dust of the "good old days" like lobotomized meatbags. As with the Meek Band's "Black Dog," the Amazing Ron & Renee's "Yesterday" takes something familiar and makes it simultaneously unfamiliar and somehow more relatable than the original.

The other songs are okay. Most of the artists, with the exception of That Hope, apparently didn't do much (or anything) apart from contributing a track or three to these Passed Normal compilations. The Sediments' trebly, rocked-up version of KISS's "Beth" sounds kind of like a prototype of D.L.I.M.C., but their version of the Beatles' "Rain" doesn't. Edwin Pierce's "Can't Make No Conditions" is a fairly normal guitar instrumental, and the rest are mostly cacophonous instrumentals.

Side A

  1. Scott Lucas – "Butt-Plug"
  2. Sediments – "Beth"
  3. Pink Bob – "Thinking Big"
  4. That Hope – "Lost"
  5. Pink Bob – "Chopsticks"
  6. Shmaz – "Mess #3"
  7. Meek Band – "Black Dog"

Side B

  1. Shmaz – "12-Bar Browns"
  2. The Amazing Ron & Renee – "Yesterday"
  3. Onk! – "I Know You're in There"
  4. Edwin Pierce – "Can't Make No Conditions"
  5. Sediments – "Rain"