CAN’T STOP NOW: LA MANO HISTORY PART 4
LM005: DEAD RINGER
as i said: the Centaur book was something else, and something new. but the next project was, in some ways, La Mano’s crowning achievement. enter Jason T Miles.
my friendship with Jason– how we met, became friends, etc, is too convoluted to write about in here: it does give credence to the fact that there’s a bunch of weirdos that drank the same Kool-Aid as you somewhere down the line, and you’re eventually going to meet them when you go back to the well to get more. by and large, it’s a pretty goddamn great well.
Jason is one of the most uncompromising cartoonists i’ve ever met; he relentlessly pursues his vision of what he wants to do, seemingly without a single shred of concern regarding “what people will think of it”. he just does it, and he works his ass off at it. he’s fearless and he can’t sit still; he’s just constantly exploring– and exploring some territory that’s got very few people treading on it.
and, to be totally honest, i do not “get”everything he does ( he once wrote me a postcard saying “here’s my new book: all i ask is that you never say you ‘don’t get it’”. but….sometimes i really just don’t. SORRY MAN); i’m sometimes not sure what he was going for, or why he did what he did. but one thing i AM sure of, is that he is not bullshitting me– whatever direction he goes, whether i “get” it or not, there is no doubt in my mind that he is going there for a reason. and not some half-baked art school reason, a REAL reason, one that he’s considered and thought about. whether or not that reason is apparent to ME when i read it is sort of…not the point of Jason’s stuff. i’ve probably said it numerous times in this thing, but guess what everybody: not everything needs to be for everyone.
at some point Jason sent me “Dead Ringer”. it was super fucking odd; each page a single panel on 11x 17 paper, drawn with what looked to be a dying black marker. same dude in a baseball hat, in the same spot, on each page. sometimes he said things. when i was done reading it, my first reaction was…i don’t know what that was, but it was pretty amazing.
and then i had the same reaction as when Nate sent me Centaur: well, we’ve got to do this on La Mano. and Jason said “sure”. i’ll be honest: my thought was, this’ll be a little mini-comic with some extra paper/printing choices that’ll make it look special. but– as with every other La Mano project, it changed. i thought Jason just sent it to me in the big format because that’s the size he drew it at, and was intending for it to be smaller. it wasn’t, and he didn’t: i was surprised when he said he thought it should be BIG. it NEVER would’ve struck me to go that size with it, but as soon as he said it, it made total sense. i had this raw card stock (from guess where) sitting around and a stack of weird interior paper as well. i think Jason was even the one that found the fold/bind we used (ok, what i used, as i assembled them).
the printing on this was just a total nightmare; i’ve said that before (maybe every time?), but this time i’ve got proof: may of the pages suffered from severe set-off (when the back of the printed sheet gets a “ghost” image, due to the ink on the previous sheet not drying sufficiently), and my sheet counter was broken. also, the card stock was so thick it was causing the machine total conniption fits. i lost a LOT of sheets. a lot. what it all ended up meaning was that we intended to do a run of 500 of these, but the actual number that got made was closer to 250-300.
now, the glory of Twin Cities Paper is that it was so cheap; the downside of that is that they got whatever paper they got, and if you wanted more, you were often s.o.l. they didn’t have it, and what you got from them very well could’ve been discontinued since they got it.
and, that’s what happened with Dead Ringer. after those got made, there was no more stock. and honestly, it caused me such headaches that i probably wouldn’t have done more even if there WAS stock.
Jason and i hammered out a price. i think i wanted it to go for less, but– not for the first time– the nature of the thing was so weird we had nothing to go on or compare it to. so we called it $14. i am– and always have been– absolutely terrible with the psychology of pricing things.
why? because it’s bullshit, that’s why.
but… Dead Ringer is something else. i don’t even know what to call it: it was a zine. and a comic. but it was the size of an elephant, and the individual pages were so static that someone probably could’ve taken it for a print folio. but it wasn’t any of those things specifically, either. and it was made by hand (the process for putting each one of these together was that same amount of futzy craziness that went into assembling the William Schaff folio), so it had that quality, as well. it utterly occupied its own space as a….thing.
this was the La Mano project that garnered the most confusion, the most “what the FUCK”s. some people even hated it. but i know for a fact that there’s a contingent out there that felt like this was (and is) a very, very important book to them. as with every other thing Jason and i were better pals when it was done, and our collaboration yielded something neither of us would’ve done, left to our own lights.
you can’t buy one from me. they are gone. and that’s even sort of great, as well: in this day and age when everything is available at all times…this thing got done. either you got one or you didn’t, but in either case, that’s IT; you had your shot, people. there is no way you could replicate what this thing was in any other format, ever.
such a weird, awesome, singular thing. tip to tail.
LM006 FEAR OF SONG
what can i say. i made this record. back in part 2 or whatever, mentioned Low, and my 12 years in that band, and that the divorce was difficult, messy, and painful. there was the personal stuff, and that was what it was. but there was other, more troubling things; falling ass-backwards into being a working “professional” musician had really done a number on me, in ways it took me years to figure out. i’m again going to restrain myself from getting novelistic on the subject, but i could go on at great length about it. the most important part is that somehow when i left the band i hated making music.
for a solid year after i left the band, i listened to Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder exclusively (and usually the same 5 songs, at that). after a while, i realized that i needed to try to figure this out, a little: obviously, i don’t hate music. i love music. and i’d had parts and pieces of my own songs that had been kicking around for a decade or more; not unlike my comics, the idea of finishing those things sent me into a panic that i realized was…pretty fucked up, and i’d find myself doing some pretty absurd things to avoid finishing them. i’d been a part of making quite a few very good records at this point, so what the hell was making me so crazy?
i figured– you’re not a musician anymore; there are no stakes in this. time to get to the bottom of it. you cant live the rest of your life being terrified of this thing you love. so i went in the basement with a 4-track and looked that fucker right in the eye. and it was not fun. but eventually, he blinked.
and once i finished ONE song, i though ah what the hell and finished a bunch of them. and at some point, i also started enjoying it. eventually i called my very old pal Ben Durrant, who’d done an AMAZING job recording Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha and said “you wanna help me with this?”. and he did. at some very early juncture i decided that every note on this thing had to made/ played/ performed by me.
this should surprise no one.
at a certain point Sub Pop kindly floated me and Ben some cash…they were intrigued enough by the couple songs i sent that they wanted to see what else came from it. the only problem was, due to my life and Ben’s life, we had to work on it piecemeal and by the time it was “finished”, a lot of time had passed and i was sick to death of it and just wanted it DONE. so when it all wrapped up and i sent it to them, my pal/ good guy/ Sub Pop head honcho Jon Poneman said “well, i like some of it a lot, but some not as much. what i’d like to hear are more songs.” and i didn’t have any, and the idea of sitting on this thing for another year…. again, i just wanted it done; i’d figured out what i wanted to figure out. so i did a couple calls to some labels and they all passed on “Low’s ex-bass player who doesn’t want to tour or play rock clubs”. go figure. so i released it myself, on La Mano. same old same old– had the raw cd’s manufactured, then printed everything else on paper i’d scored at TCP, assembled and signed and numbered them. Sub Pop did a great little 7″, though– one song from the record and one i left off for some stupid reason (because it’s one of the best songs of the bunch), and also a “hidden” track Ben and i had created by stitching together my isolated vocal track freak-outs, creating 4 minutes of me screaming, yelling, swearing and completely losing my shit in glorious stereo (my wife, upon hearing the track said “oh my god. that is terrifying. you sound like someone who is clinically insane.” then “you’re not really going to release that, are you?”).
and my pal Mark Treehouse liked it a lot, and put out a beautiful, thick vinyl version of it (and that’s the Sub Pop single there, too).
both versions were printed mostly on the press, and hand assembled by me. also each one is signed and numbered. perhaps i have problems.
anyways, the thing sold like a box of dead light bulbs.
i’m not the greatest self-promotor in the world, and i generally have difficulty “selling” my own work to people, in any form. comics, i’ve grown a bit more comfortable with even liking my own work, and being able to say that sort of thing out loud. but with some years remove, i feel like… this record, along with the Deitch files, are the La Mano projects i feel maybe didn’t get the shake they ought to have. more on Deitch in the next part, but that one’s a slam dunk: IT’S KIM DEITCH.
i’m pretty much the last person to toot his own horn on stuff like this, and while i was making it, i did not have the objectivity to assess the thing reasonably other than a gut sense that some of it was working pretty darn well– enough to keep going, anyway. but with some remove, now… it’s a solid record. some of it is pretty goddamn good, actually. a little closer to the bone than i’d like, in retrospect, but…that’s why you do things like make a record in your basement. it certainly wasn’t safe, i’ll tell you that much.
i don’t even want to start on the current state of music right now. you don’t want that.
next up, Sammy and Deitch. then a big wrap up. it’s taking a while, huh?