ONLY EIGHT POSTS IN AND RETTMAN ADMITS TO RUNNING ON FUMES BY DREDGING UP HIS PAST...FILM @ 11...
Once upon a time, I was an eager young man brimming with enthusiasm and hope. Wudda dummy thing to admit to. Somewhere around 1996 or so, I decided to totally ditch my britches on my Hardcore past and start this Psychedelic avant garde scum bucket type fanzine named The 200 Pound Underground. Wudda dummy move. A lot of people have shown interest in seeing the early issues from this time period, but I don’t gots. I guess as space/time/food permits, I will put up some of my ‘personal favorites’ from issues 1 through 3. I know this isn’t the same thing as holding the actual issue in your precious little hands. Tough crap. Accept loss forever and you’ll be the better man.
Somewhere in the Spring of 1997, Jim McCarthy (formerly of The Godz) came into a record store a relative works in to take some photographs. Somewhere between the photos being snapped and the car being started, Jim’s phone number was taken down and I met up with a day or so later. I don’t remember too many details from the interview other than he wanted to get back to his apartment to yell at the handyman for installing the wrong handles on his kitchen cabinets. As usual, I am a fountain of information.
Looking back, I see alotta cringe worthy things. A lack of punctuation, a fumbling lack of research (I really should of axed more questions about his solo LP, ‘Alien’) and a totally confusing earnestness. How the road lead from there to here, I’m totally perplexed by. If you can tell me how I went from this to that in fifty words or less, I will ride a winged serpent into your kitchen for Flag Day. No shit…
I include the original introduction from the ‘zine as proof…
In April of this year (1997) a blood relative of mine ran into Jim McCarthy at a local record shop. Luckily, Mr. McCarthy was cool enough to give out his phone number for a possible interview and the next thing I know I’m on the 2nd floor of some typical NYC deli having lunch and rapping with the man himself. I tell ya, sometimes it’s a sweet life. If you have yet to discover The Godz music, it’s imperative you do so immediately. Their sound reached beyone rock boundaries to scrape it’s fingernails on the walls of the great unknowable. They were soulful, chaotic, heartfelt and obnoxious all in one album. It was their music that moved Lester Bangs to scrawl down the immortal words ’Sometimes less is more’. Their first 3 releases (’Contact High’/’Godz 2’/’3rd Testament’) are the best place to start. For the less discerning types, might I also recommend Jim McCarthy’s solo LP, ’Alien’. It’s certainly not a free formed freak out, but it is an absolutely lovely little record (probably one of my all time fave ESP’s) rich with loose ’Basement Tapes’ like vibes and it’s complete with Jim doing his best Gary Brooker imiation. All the Godz records as well as ’Alien’ are available on CD via ESP XYZ and are most likely sitting in your local hipster records shop awaiting your consumption.
Jim McCarthy: So what do you want to know?
200LBU: I guess you all worked at a Sam Goody’s together, right?
JM: Three of us did. Me, Paul and Larry worked there. Jay Dillon we met through Larry. He (Jay) was originally a painter. He also sold marijuana to pay the rent so that’s the main reason we hooked up with him. (Laughter)
200LBU: So when did you originally get together to make music?
JM: I was living at Larry’s house. I had just got out of the hospital with a case of hepatitis and had broken up with the woman I was living with, so I had to move out of her place and live with Larry temporarily. It was a pretty depressing time for me.
200LBU: Oh really? You couldn’t tell that by the first record (obvious sarcasm followed by laughter)
JM: Yeah…so me, Larry and Paul were hanging out one afternoon, getting high and there were all these percussive instruments lying around and out of total frustration, I got up and starting shaking a tambourine or something like that, and that’s how it all started. We all started to get up and make noise like a bunch of maniacs, expressing our frustration. Paul played guitar, Larry didn’t play anything at the time and he was working at ESP as a sales manager and he said ’Oh Bernard Stollman would love this!’ and I thought he was crazy. Up until that point, I had been in bar bands playing top 40 covers. I actually cut a record with one of them, The Dick Watson Five. The record was called ’Baker Street’ and it was our take on a Rock ’N’ Roll Broadway show. It’s pretty obscure. It doesn’t even have our names on it. I left the band because I saw The Fugs play and I was inspired by them. The reality of their music caught me and I thought ’Why am I fucking around singing other peoples’ songs when I should be expressing my own feelings?’ So I left the Dick Watson Five with no plans at all, and when we did that thing the one afternoon, it felt right and I was ready for it. So we started writing songs and then we would improvise on them. We auditioned for Bernard Stollman over the telephone.
JM: We just called him up and were like ’Hey Bernard, check this out’ and we played some weird shit over the phone to him and he loved it. He gave us 2 hours of studio time to record a single and we ended up recording the whole ’Contact High’ album in that session. We recorded all the songs from beginning to end. Exactly the way you hear it.
200LBU: Was there anyone else besides The Fugs that inspired you at the time?
JM: Mostly English bands like The Beatles and The Stones, but it was The Fugs that definitely turned my head around. We lived in the same area as them and the whole mood of the Lower East Side at the time was right for us starving artistic types. I was searching my soul for truth and found it in what I did.
200LBU: Did you have connection with the Velvet Underground?
JM: When I was in the hospital for hepatitis, I was in the same ward as Lou Reed. He had hepatitis as well. Mine was infectious, his was serum. This was before either of us had recorded our first albums. We used to get together to smoke cigarettes in this little room outside the ward. We would listen to the radio and I remember his favorite song at the time was ’Red Rubber Ball’ by The Cyrkle and mine was ’I Want You’ by Dylan. After he got out of the hospital, I was walking from the east side to the west side and we both walked towards one another but didn’t say anything. When the first Velvet Underground record came out, I realized who he was and I found out that he had ’Contact High’ and liked it, so we had this mutual appreciation society. He hung out once in awhile and we played with the Velvet Underground at some place out in Long Island called the Action House. It was a big concert with The Ronnettes, The Rascals, and a few others. They had 2 or 3 stages set up for the bands to play and it was a very weird scene. I have vague memories of it because I was pretty stoned. The last time I saw Lou was after the ’Transformer’ record came out and I ran into him at Max’s one night and we just talked.
200LBU: Did you guys have any connections with LaMonte Young?
JM: (Confused look) Who?
200LBU: The Theatre of Eternal Music?
JM: (Same confused look) No. We hung out at a club called The Scene. The Scene was a hang out place for models and musicians and people would just get up and jam. Hendrix used to hang out there.
200LBU: Did you feel any kinship with the more rock based ESP bands like Holy Modal Rounders or Pearls Before Swine?
JM: Pearls we didn’t really care for much, but Holy Modal Rounders were cool. The ESP offices were on Fifth Street and they had a room across the hall from the offices that they were supposed to set up as a studio, but it never happened.
200LBU: How steady of a live band were The Godz?
JM: We played in every club in the city at least once, because after the first time, no one wanted us back. We auditioned at a club called The Night Owl which is where The Lovin’ Spoonful got their break. I’ll never forget the afternoon we auditioned, because we went into ’White Cat Heat’ and the door opened and the bouncer who was standing outside opened the door and looked at us with such incredible disbelief. It was something you had to see. Needless to say, we didn’t get the gig. We played Folk City in it’s original location. Café Wha?, Café A Go Go. I remember the Café A Go Go gig because we were thrown out of there for smoking grass in the dressing room.
200LBU: Who were you getting to play with at these shows?
JM: Mostly ourselves. The biggest gig we ever got was through a college rep in North Carolina at Duke University. It was after the 2nd album came out, which was our most successful period. We drove down and they put us up in these rooms over the library for the weekend. We played the Civic Center in Durham and it was a great show. There was a pretty good local blues band that opened for us and they were baffled out of their minds at why we had top billing over them (laughter)
200LBU: So you were known outside of the NYC area at the time?
JM: Yeah, but we’re more popular now than we ever were then.
200LBU: Well that’s the way it always goes.
JM: Most of our biggest fans weren’t even born then.
200LBU: I wasn’t. Did you ever check out that Godz tribute record?
JM: On Lissy’s? Yeah, I like it.
200LBU: (Disapproving face)
JM: Why? What’s wrong with it?
200LBU: I’m just not too into those bands.
JM: I’m just amazed someone took the effort to replicate the spirit of our music. The thing that amuses me the most is the detail they remember, because we never thought of our music in that way. It just happened.
200LBU: I was looking at the recording dates on the back of the CD’s last night and it seemed like you guys were just kicking out the records one after another.
JM: The first one was just like getting out foot in the door. Fortunately, Bernard loved it and put it out immediately and it fit the feeling of the music because everything happened so spontaneously. Even in the music, things just happened and it felt right.
200LBU: I understand what you mean because The Godz were one of the first bands that helped me come to the realization that what I loved about music was the spirit and not the technicality of it. There’s things happening on those records that aren’t suppose to be happening and they’re creating these intense, heartfelt sounds.
JM: We certainly let mistakes work in our favor. Art is about taking things that occur and letting them go and seeing what happens, and that goes for any art form. After the first album, our egos really pumped up. Larry kept insisting we were the American version of the Beatles (Laughter) By the second record, we got some decent instruments. Jay got an electric keyboard, Paul got a set of drums, Larry had my bass and I got a nice electric guitar. We played around with those instruments and got a different feel for the 2nd record. It’s the most cohesive. I recently played the CD for someone and I have to say I enjoyed listening to it. I can’t say that about the first one though, I cringe when I hear that album.
200LBU: Really? I love that record. That was the first Godz record I ever heard. The next one I heard was the third one and I couldn’t believe it was the same band.
JM: By the third one, we weren’t really a band. Jay had dropped out.
200LBU: Didn’t he just disappear or something?
JM: For some reason on another, he didn’t like how things were working out so he just went back to doing what he was doing before the band.
200LBU: Selling pot?
JM: No, doing artwork. At the same time, I had just gotten married and my wife was from Philadelphia, so I moved there because my father promised me a job there. I lived there for 6 months and hated it, so I moved back to NYC and we recorded the 3rd album. That record wasn’t done as a group effort, it was separate elements of our own put together. I had a handful of songs and I just went in and did them. The same thing goes for Larry. There was only one full group session.
200LBU: Was that with the First Multitude?
JM: We just invited all our friends down to the studio one night. Most of them weren’t musicians and we just told them ‘Play’ and it rambled on. By the time the third record came out, we had broken up and a few years passed. I started to write a lot of my own stuff and I feel that was my most prolific point. I was trying to put a band together and it just wasn’t happening.
200LBU: What came first ‘Godzundheut’ or your solo album, ‘Alien’?
JM: I’m pretty sure ‘Godzundheit’ came first. Larry put that one together. I just joined in for a few songs. It wasn’t a Godz record, I’ll let you that. Bernard was begging me to do a solo record and I didn’t want to record for ESP anymore. I wanted to record with a label with a good budget. Finally, I gave in and did it. We did an acoustic session first and I didn’t like it, so I talked Bernard into getting some guys together. The band on ‘Alien’ was basically a pick up band. There was a few guys from the Left Banke on there (Steve Martin and Paul Thorton -- Baroque Pop editor’s note) We ran through the songs once and all the songs on the record were done in the 1st or 2nd take.
200LBU: Was ESP a well run label?
JM: Bernard was a musician’s lawyer and he had clients coming in complaining about record labels ripping them off, so Bernard thought ‘Hey, why don’t I rip them off?’ (Laughter) I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way. He played his role in providing a forum for us, though.
200LBU: Have you stayed in contact with him?
JM: Yes. He still thinks of himself as a great benefactor. I haven’t received a royalty statement from ESP Disk since the earl 70’s.
200LBU: You haven’t received royalties from the CD reissues?
JM: No, Bernard made a deal with XYZ in Germany to press up a shitload of CD’s for a shitload of money and no one has seen anything. I know they’re selling…
200LBU: It’s pretty ridiculous that he got as much money as you say considering most of those CD’s were mastered right off the vinyl.
JM: I agree. What happened was when Bernard closed up shop and moved up state he gave the master tapes away to the bands. Larry has the master tapes for some of the Godz records. I’ve got the master tape for ‘Alien’.
200LBU: Did you get to hang out with the Jazz musicians on ESP?
JM: Sure. I actually worked as a photographer for Bernard when he wanted file photos for his artists. I shot Marion Brown, Gato Barbieri, etc. Marion Brown and I used to get high on the roof of the ESP building.
200LBU: So there were no barriers between the Rock and Jazz people in ESP?
JM: Not at all. The Jazz people dug us because we were improvisational. There was a common ground. We used to run into Sun Ra in the East Village all the time. He was a trip!
200LBU: I can imagine. Was there anyone besides Lester Bangs who gave you guys a good write up? Maybe when you were around?
JM: Yeah, but Lester’s thing was the definitive one on The Godz. He really knew where we were coming from. I remember the day I saw that issue of Creem on the news stand. I was working at a clothing store in the East Village and I was out on my lunch break and pick up the new issue of Creem and it reads ‘Lester Bangs on The Godz’. So, I flip through and there’s this huge write up with pictures. Lester and I spoke a few times after that. He then moved to NYC and we got friendly. At the time he was putting together a band and he wanted me to join his band.
200LBU: Have you ever heard their record?
JM: No, how is it?
200LBU: He should of stuck to writing.
JM: I went to one of their rehearsals and I wasn’t impressed.
200LBU: So did everyone on ESP have to learn Esperanto?
JM: Oh man! Bernard wanted us to sing in Esperanto! One time Bernard brought us into his office and he had this old geezer in there and he spoke in this Eastern European accent and he tried to teach us Esperanto and we could’ve cared less.
200LBU: There was a study that said it would take over 200 years for Esperanto to progress over the entire planet, so it’s obvious Bernard really had a vision. (laughter)
JM: Oh yeah! It was this exclusive upper society thing to be into Esperanto. (I had to flip the tape at this point and somehow I ended up here…) All we did was try to express our feelings honestly. We wanted to show you didn’t have to be a musical student to express yourself. Jay Dillion was the one who wanted to get intellectual with The Godz. He wanted us to go to school and teach kids how to play music.
200LBU: What do you think of Larry’s new version of The Godz?
JM: I think it sucks. Larry is a scary guy.
200LBU: Mentally or physically?
JM: Both. Back in the old days, he was real scary. We were good friends and I can’t say that anymore. The last time I saw him I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as him.
200LBU: How long ago was this?
JM: Three or four years ago. It was when Bernard tried to get The Godz back together. Apparently he had some gigs lined up for us in Germany and Holland. We did one gig at the Bitter End. The music sounded good but it wasn’t The Godz. We tried to record some songs and it really sucked.
200LBU: I read a recent interview with Larry and he acted like the Godz never broke up.
JM: In his mind they never did. He owns the name, so he thinks The Godz owe him. Paul and I were supposed to do something for that Lizzy’s comp but Larry went and did his thing.
200LBU: That single is really bad.
JM: I agree. The thing that pisses me off is that’s one of my songs (‘Radar Eyes’)
200LBU: Do you still write music at all?
JM: I don’t. I still consider myself a musician and music still means an awful lot to me but I don’t have the need to express myself through music anymore. What happened was, after the solo record so many promises were made as far as support and nothing happened. I just got turned off by music because of the music business.
200LBU: Do you listen to any recent music?
JM: I like The Wallflowers a lot. My musical tastes varies, but most new music I can’t get into at all. There’s not enough substance to grab on to. The most disappointing area is R&B. I remember real R&B.
200LBU: It’s all about convenience. They just throw labels on thins even though it’s hardly what the label conveys.
JM: I mean, I’m talking Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding. THOSE are R&B singers. You hear them and it’s pure emotion. Even Aretha Franklin, one of my favorite singers, is singing shit these days! I’m sure there are bands just as good as them. I just don’t keep up with them.
200LBU: Well, there’s plenty of bands keeping up the tradition of The Godz. I guess my main problem with that Godz tribute record is most of those bands are well known indie rock bands. The bands who are really sharing something with what you guys did press up their records in editions of 500 and sell them to their friends.
JM: My basic interest is in roots music. Whether its roots rock, root blues, roots folk. I like all music as long as it’s got an element of soul to it. It doesn’t matter the category, it’s the emotion and that’s what I miss in music today. I go down to New Orleans every year for the Heritage Jazz Festival and to me it’s like Christmas. There’s this tall stage set up on a racetrack and all day long there’s music going on all the stages. You’ll see these old guys who probably have a job as a dishwasher every other day of the year, but that day they’re loved and they’ve been doing this for 40 years. They do it for the love of it, not for the money or the girls. It makes you feel good and others feel good.
200LBU: Well, that’s what it’s all about.
JM: Absolutely, man.
200LBU: It’s one of those things where you can’t really put it into words, it’s just about the feeling.
JM: Well, you know it when you feel it. I just bought the Al Green anthology last week and I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning. I put this CD on and his music still brings chills to my body and it’s so REAL and that’s what it’s all about.
200LBU: Weren’t the Godz actually pretty good friends with Procul Harem?
JM: I still am. The other guys weren’t so much as I was. I bought the 1st Procul Harem record at the same time I bought the 1st David Bowie and the 1st Velvet Underground album. I listened to that 1st Procul Harem records everyday regularly. In ‘68, I was working at the Sam Goody on 49th Street and someone said Procul Harem was staying at the hotel across the street. I went over there and picked up the house phone and asked for Gary Broker and he answered! So I went upstairs and introduced myself and he knew who The Godz were! The band had a photo session a year before at Michael Sullivan’s studio and he played a Godz record while he photographed them. Gary and I hit off as well as B.J. Oswald, one of, if not THEE greatest rock drummers ever. A real strong friendship.
200LBU: My last questions is an obvious one. I guess drugs played an important role in The Godz’ music.
JM: Yeah. We smoked grass and hash. We tripped on acid. Did speed occasionally.
200LBU: From what I’ve read about NYC in the late 60’s, speed was pretty much the drug of choice.
JM: We didn’t do it that much. We didn’t do acid that much either. Maybe like once a month.
200LBU: Oh, once a month, that’s it? What was that? Doctors’ orders?
JM: It was a required thing at the time.
200LBU: It’s certainly required thing while listening to it.
JM: It helps!200LBU: I know the first time I heard The Godz, I was incredibly stoned.
JM: Well, if it’s any consolation to you, Paul still smokes joints like they’re cigarettes.
200LBU: Yeah…that makes me happy.
---AND IF THE LAZINESS AIN'T APPARENT ENOUGH---
Sometime next time, we'll chat about the new Violent Students cassette on Main + Disfigured and Simos' flyer 'zine and the new Loosers thing on Our Mouth and other stuffs. Until then...don't bother me....I'm mulling...