Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Neptune's Car

by Doug Gillard

In 1980, Doug Morgan was about to begin a short run as touring bassist for Human Switchboard, and had just released a collaborative 7" with Charlotte Pressler under the name Pressler-Morgan ( "You're Gonna Watch Me"/"Hand Piece" - Hearthan Records, 1979). He formed Neptune's Car with Pere Ubu/Home and Garden drummer Scott Krauss, guitarist John Freskos, and bassist Brian Cox, and went into Cleveland's After Dark studios to churn out the jarring avant-pop found on this single.

This 45 epitomizes the best of Northeast Ohio's short-lived "post-punk underground" sound. It comes from a time when men weren't afraid to use chorus pedals - not the smooth Roland JC sound of the mid-80's, but the off-phase, piercing, early chorus pedal sound. The record also benefits from the co-production of The Mirrors' Jim Jones, then just forming the great band Easter Monkeys. Both of these tracks were thankfully included on the Pere Ubu box set Datapanik in the Year Zero, on the included CD Terminal Drive- Ubu-related Rarities. (Geffen/Cooking Vinyl, 1996)

"Baking Bread," with its semi-ska drunken sailor intro led by a repeated Krauss fill, quickly gets into the meat of its angular modern garage pop. Morgan's slightly Verlainian vocals overlay chiming guitars not given to typical strumming or chord voicings. Okay, it's a little like Television, but takes that approach a step further; a little more obtuse.

"Lucky Charms" is almost as strong as the A-side. Propelled by Krauss's forward leaning straight-4 beat, this faster, danceable rocker exhibits the same unexpected chord changes, along with some nice, quirky guitar improvisations along the way, not too far removed from the likes of what Pylon was doing in Athens at the same time. Krauss's beat style here is consistent with the flavor he demonstrated in Pere Ubu and would use in the future with Home and Garden. The guitar parts Morgan devises to fill holes between vocal lines are ever-interesting, never typical.

Neptune's Car changed its lineup and carried on another few years, with Gary Lupico (ex-Kneecappers, pre-Dr. Bloodmoney & California Speedbag, and inventor of the name "Dead Kennedys") coming in on guitar, and Jeff Benik (pre-Ca. Speedbag, The New Ceasars, more) replacing Krauss.

Morgan moved to New York, formed/quit some bands, moved back to Cleveland, and in the 90's formed the New Caesars. Koolie--in fact, Morgan's own label--compiled and released the EP Peter Laughner in 1982.

I saw a later version of Neptune's Car in '82 at an outdoor college radio festival when I was 16, not knowing I would play in some capacity with its members in a few separate outfits years later. (Gary Lupico, Brian Cox, Doug Morgan, Jeff Benik)

In 1996, Doug Morgan was living back in Cleveland and asked me to record 2 songs with him in what would come to be called the New Caesars. "Flame" and "Lou" were 2 very different songs, but have Morgan's melodicism and gift for well thought-out lyrics. Practicing the songs with Doug and the band was fun, and I stayed late those couple nights at a studio in the Flats adding backup vocals and extra guitar. One night after recording I found my car window smashed by a thief who tried to get the crappy radio/cassette player inside. It was worth it, of course, because the songs came out great! You can hear the New Caesars stuff HERE.

(Dedicated to the memory of Gary Lupico and Jim Jones. Thanks to Mike DeCapite and Brian Cox)


"Baking Bread" mp3
by Neptune's Car, 1980.
Koolie 240
out of print

"Lucky Charms" mp3
by Neptune's Car, 1980.
Koolie 240
out of print

top photograph © Ted Barron
Doug Morgan, Grand Street, Brooklyn, circa 1990.


Jon said...

I was pleased to see The Human Switchboard mentioned. I saw them once in Detroit. That was when I was back and forth between Indiana and Cass Corridor on a regular basis. Which brings me to my other point: These songs kind of remind me of my Indiana friends, The Dancing Cigarettes. I think there was a lot of this kind of music going around the midwest in the early '80's. Never quite coalesced into a scene, probably because there was no one around to write it up as such. As I recall, the midwest was in an economic downturn that was almost as bad as our present misfortunes. A lot of good ideas were nipped in the bud by poverty. Around 1981-82 at least three musicians I knew spent time in county jails for shoplifting food. Still there seemed to be a lot of poppish, danceable but eccentric bands around. It was not a sound I heard coming from the coasts either. I leave it to some future musical archaeologist to put together the definitive midwestern post punk compilation.

suzyGB said...

i was so relieved to see this wasn't an obit. I was very glad to see his mature handsome self a while back in a bagel shop in Williamsburg. - I hear what you are saying about Television, but I also hear beach boys - Big Sound. big country road sound. nice to have these in my iTunes - thanx Boogie Woogie Flu.

johnny said...

I must agree with Jon and say that I too was glad to see http://HumanSwitchboard.com in the article.

I've been listening to their music again ever since seeing them in the news (see link to their site) for the lead singer/founder/guitarist going to jail for what he did to his ex girlfriend. Yikes! But interesting even if he's a convicted felon!

Anonymous said...

Gary Lupico, was he Gary Nervo? DJ on WRUW, Kneecapers? Worked at Down Home Records in ElCerrito? Same fellow? Nice guy.

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Wow, two of Cleveland's top three or four guitar-playing Dougs in one post! I saw a gig where Brent was playing bass and drums simultaneously, at Edison's, but I don't remember it as being New Year's Eve...by the way, shouldn't it be New Caesars, not New Ceasars?


When I lived in New York, it was always fun going to see the Switchboard, as something funny or dumb was bound to happen. My favorite was at some place in midtown (Peppermint Lounge?), when after the set some guy from the club was trying to expedite their exodus from the stage, yelling at Bob Pfeifer to get his amp off, and Bob reached into his pocket and pulled out a--note--from--his--doctor! saying that he shouldn't lift anything heavy. Priceless.


Gary Nervo was a stage name for Gary Mollica. He played keyboards in The Jars, and had been a DJ on WRUW.


Aside to Doug G.:

For a (stereo)laff, search YouTube for "have you heard guided by voices"...

J. Freskos said...

Doug and I formed Koolie in 1980. It was I who persuaded Mrs. Laughner to let us have the ability / copyright to recorded the Peter Laughner LP in 82. BTW That wasn't easy!!. We made a 1000 and sold them in Cleveland and NYC. Nice of you to upload the single. I haven't heard from Doug in many moons. Last I heard is he's a happy father living in upstate New York.

Gary Mollica said...

Just found this. Though last name was & is Mollica, I only used "Gary" when I was on WRUW (did the 1st punk rock show), though did use Mollica in CLE mag . I did know Gary L & saw Kneecappers numerous times in the flats.
Interestingly enough, I WAS the conduit that got the (SF)Dead Kenendys their name. In a CLE band roundup in CLE mag, we (most probably Jim Ellis) wrote about the Kneeecappers having to change their name from The Dead Kennedys. My oldest friend Marc Gunther AKA The Rev Marc Time worked at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley & we got him to sell the mag. He did sell a copy of the mag to Eric Boucher, soon to become Jello Biafra. I was friends with Jello & he always denied taking the name from CLE, but in the recent history of Bay Area punk , Gimme Something Better, the rest of the band admits it was from CLE Mag. And yes, I later moved to Berkeley in the 70s, ran Music Faucet/Universal Records on Telegraph, played keys in The Jars as well as The Art Faggots & Bo, & later worked at Down Home.

tom mullady said...

Thanks for omitting my three year contribution as guitarist for neptunes car. Sincerely , Tom mullady