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Duets: 1975-1976

by Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley
Compound Annex, Los Angeles, CA, 2011
CD, Compound Annex #34-35 $ 15 US
Distributor’s website: http://www.mikekelley.com/compound.html.

Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


The picture on the back cover of Duets: 1975-1976 has an empty space where something or someone has been Photoshopped out, between Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley.  I've seen the original 1976 photograph taken by their Destroy All Monsters band mate Cary Loren, and in it, Ron Asheton stands between the two University of Michigan art students.  The veteran Stooges guitarist Asheton is soon to join the band, for Shaw and Kelley were packing their bags to attend graduate school (California Institute of the Arts) and leaving home state Michigan for the west coast.

The original art gang-qua-noise rock band Destroy All Monsters consisted of Kelly, Loren, Niagara, and Shaw.  This two-disc collection of Shaw and Kelley's duets probably contains sessions recorded when Loren and his girlfriend Niagara were off somewhere, making out or making movies, and the remaining two lads were back in the student house at the edge of campus they shared in this, their UM senior year.  That’s the house with a big sign on the front porch (purchased from a country church) proclaiming it "God's Oasis".

On Disc I, the first “Untitled” cut wears its hip-kid's-record-collection influences proudly.  Parts sound like Edgar Varése, or Lou Reed's 1975 "Metal Machine Music", alternately sporting sirens, wolf howls, industrial sounds, the dismal pessimism of Iggy Pop's 1977 "Mass Production", or the cacophony of the Stooges' "LA Blues" (Asheton as the ghost in this machine).  It's the sound of guys barely having fun, a state Niagara was to sing of in "Bored", a 1977 song by a later version of Destroy All Monsters after Kelley and Shaw's departure to the Golden State.  A moan and something evoking Devo's "boojie boy", an irritating babyish sing-song vocal that Kelley put to use in "pathetic aesthetic" performance works in California in the 1980s and later.  The piece has no rise and fall, only partial closure with an abject wind-down then rise again amidst plucking of the guitar strings.

On the second cut "Jim Jam Johnny A La Mode (Mocha Mix)", Kelley exclaims  "Destroy All Monsters, California!" at its beginning, as if amazed at the fact these two Monsters are really there.  There's more squealing, yelping, or wimpy complaining, reminding us "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."  Maracas suggest a Latin American influence the mid-westerners discovered in southern California, as well as some Dick Dale surf guitar licks and moments of Jefferson Airplane soaring.  We're at a primitive beach party around a driftwood bonfire.  A thumping drum makes us suspect at least one of these guys had bought the Godz (on ESP-Disk) at University Cellar, the record shop in the basement of the Michigan Union.  It isn't as interesting, though, as what they did with their collaborations with Niagara and Loren as Destroy All Monsters, on their songs like "November 22, 1963" about President Kennedy's assassination.  A cascade of big rock drums, then kaleidoscoping guitar noodling hoodlum's notes, wash in feedback till a fade out.

Destroy All Monsters used to clear parties with their assaultive volume.  "Squeeze Toy Beat", the first cut on disc II, features a squeeze toy like an irate monkey or ferret hassling Kelley's drums and Shaw's guitar exploration.  Shaw comes in with

Vanilla Fudge-style organ playing on a small Orgatron, a fan-powered keyboard with seemingly as little gravitas as its boxy rival, the Magnus Chord Organ.  The listener recalls how a decade before these two were local students, Max Crook, creator of the memorable organ solo on Del Shannon's "Runaway", played a "Musitron" in the Ann Arbor supper-club duo Sounds of Tomorrow.  The most variant, this cut may be the most fun to listen to.

The second “Untitled” cut reminds the listener how there was an active gamelan troupe, open to public participation, at the University of Michigan, and several of the townies who frequented Destroy All Monsters' parties and jams had played in it.  There are a series of gamelan-like eighth notes played on a metal plate, a cymbal counterpoint.  Kelley's percussion sounds vaguely Arabic, single drums and claves.  Electronicized guitar slithers in, some tremolo, twang and a distinctly Stooges-esque strum.  Jim Shaw starts off excitedly, as if going somewhere, then loses the thread, daydreams, the Attention Deficit Disorder axe man.  He constructs an interesting surf or secret agent riff, then quickly subverts it.  Once he almost goes from the root chord to a 4th, threatening a blues progression—Whew!  Almost lost myself there.  Must be the drugs.  Kelley taps along like a little brother, running to keep up with Shaw's fast bike.

"Tape Collage", the third and final cut suggests Fluxus musicians at the University of Michigan Once Festival of Electronic Music, in Ann Arbor a decade and a half before.  Tape runs backward, a technique that transfixed the region in 1969 when the "Paul is Dead" rumor began over Ann Arbor, then Detroit, radio.  Turn me on, dead man!  I buried Paul!  There follows the kind of electronic noise that, since the 1950s, signified "space alien" when appearing in movies or television drama.

Beyond their 1970s youthful emergence, all four original Destroy All Monsters members continued creative visual and performance work as individuals, to varying degrees of international success.  Upon the 1994 occasion of his Whitney Museum retrospective, Mike Kelley organized the first of several collaborative musical and art-making reunions of the group over the next 17 years.   Shaw married artist Marnie Weber yet stayed in contact with his Los Angeles artist friend Kelley, who appeared in some of the dreams Shaw carefully drew in his 1995 book Dreams.

Produced by Mike Kelley for his Compound Annex record label, this disc was available for purchase (along with an 8-disc box of Jim Shaw's solo guitar from the same era that Kelley produced) at the November, 2011 Destroy All Monsters exhibition at the Prism Gallery in Los Angeles.  That exhibition, part of the multi-venue Pacific Standard Time series, featured mid-1970s artwork from all four Michigan Monsters Kelly, Loren, Niagara and Shaw.  Supposedly Jim Shaw had to urge Mike Kelley, despondent after an autumn breakup of a romantic relationship, to even attend the opening of the exhibition he'd helped to organize.  Yet Kelley's spirits perked up in the course of the evening, and those in attendance recalled him laughing uproariously at Niagara's quips at the artists' dinner afterwards.  She also urged him to revisit his hometown Detroit for a while, to chill out from his several years of exhausting productivity.  The restful sojourn was not to be; Kelley stayed in L.A., and six weeks later, he killed himself.

Announcing Mike Kelley's death February 2, 2012, NPR's Netta Ulaby reported that Kelley had played with Destroy All Monsters, and the sound bed beneath was a Ron Asheton solo.  I hope Jim Shaw was listening.  Kelley would have been amused.

Last Updated 3 March 2012

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