the beautiful inside the obscene
1992 and 1993 were prolific years for Myself a Living Torch. In early ’92 we entered San Francisco’s Brilliant Studio as a curious sounding quartet relying on nuance more than force and exited as a fledgling alt-rock outfit churning out sonic textures with a newfound, punchy attitude. Though the intensively-produced Citizen Self EP failed to generate the widespread recognition we hoped for, the recording experience set us on track for a creative explosion and a new propulsive sound.
Through the rest of 1992 and into 1993, aside from sporadic gigging to push Citizen Self, we holed up in our Minna Street hideaway writing and rehearsing and, in all, committed over 20 song demos to quarter-inch 8-track tape. On this archive site, ten of those recordings are grouped as an LP titled Instant Karma Cannot Get Me. Another ten live together as The Human Condition.
Our post-Citizen Self songs roared and rumbled with edgy cynicism and dark, surrealistic humor. And those on The Human Condition may be the cream of the crop, the ones with the most bite. If you venture a listen, pay particular attention to these:
“Zodiac Player No. 2” (“No. 1” is on Instant Karma) is nothing short of an astounding guitar epic, showcasing Eric Schulz’s (now Goner Records artist Harlan T Bobo) playing and arranging talents, and greasing the way for an adventurous set of lyrics mixing a kitschy take on astrology and sexual awakening. What could be more fun or liberating?
“Bad at Parties” is an exercise in pathos, and lays it on thick. House parties are a grand part of the San Francisco bohemian tradition and the behavior at such events, as I remember, could be by turns boorish, amusing, pathetic and endearing. The guitar samples on this one are inebriated perfection, accurate from first-hand experience.
“A Perfect Pair” is a funky, double-edged jaunt through the aching/tragic milieu of personals ads — with a soaring, knife-twisting finish.
“Biggest Lie of the Century” is a personal favorite, pitting bravado against conscience with regret as referee, neatly wrapped in a tight pop package.
And, while our rendition of “Jump into the Fire” may have Nillsson's corpse turning, to my mind it’s a fine tribute to one of the most remarkable songsmiths of our time. I can’t live if living is without you...
Admittedly, The Human Condition is a nasty bit of business: a smart-ass love letter to folly, as cruel and arch as it is empathetic. The saccharin, outsider fantasy of “Hippie Chick with a Nose Ring” counters the evil that lurks and lurches in “Softie.” “Accelerator” brings the hammer down on American brutality, guilty as charged, and “Sad Sex Clown” swaggers through a long ago SOMA midnight, repulsion and attraction competing for some manner of dingy stardom. Oh, how the cult of personality slithers into the limelight. There it is. I see it: success, fawning adoration, celebrity. I can't reach it. I tell myself I don't care. Oh, me, myself and I...
Then there’s the final heart-bound, death-aimed dagger: “Let’s Get Drunk and Talk about Marriage” radically pivots from the preceding chaos to lay bare the moment of truth for all manner of relationships, including not just couples but guitar bands. Straightforward and vulnerable, humble by contrast, the ballad foretells the end of Myself a Living Torch, as well as the end of a personal era. It also foreshadows our next musical phase. “Let’s Get Drunk” would, a year later, be rerecorded and included as a Jeff Bright & the Sunshine Boys b-side (to “I’m Still Missing You,” released by Waggletone Records on 7" vinyl) and as a cut on Heyday Records’ 1994 Pushing the Norton: The Ace Café Compilation CD. One listener described it as the saddest song she had ever heard. Quite right.
In hindsight, Chris/Troy, Christopher, Eric/Harlan and myself may have been the only ones in on the joke. Or likely, the joke was on us. Or me. What we spawned was almost too much to live with. The guitar samples, double-amped bass and extra-wry double entendre were too densely layered for all but the most ambitious listener to appreciate, or even decode. Still, I recall the months spent on this work with (fiendish) fondness — with a sense that we had sculpted a unique, defiant sound — a sound on the loser’s edge — poignant, perverse, bohemian, awkwardly beautiful, rushing to climax — a pageant of fumbling love and adoration for life and the inevitability of disappointment and nothingness.
Color us with crayons of doom
Moonless black, the deepest violet, a clotted crimson
Green of the forest’s most hidden den, and an orange blazing
Hotter than the insistent sun
— our companions on the brink
But fear not vicissitudes of a great dream
Tangles in the wind’s howling tale
Which mercilessly forever implore:
Show me your godspeed, your secrets and keys
It’s what I need
The Human Condition is slated for full restoration and release, likely in 2022. Meanwhile, visit our highly ambitious Bandcamp page. Eventually both The Human Condition and its companion volume Instant Karma Cannot Get Me will be available there in all their devious glory.
Sail on, ye mariners.