Ooh!

Recently, a reader compared my work to Lester Bangs'. Curious as to why, I started reading the pioneering rock critic's posthumous anthology, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. What stunned me immediately wasn't his distinctive use of language so much as the freedom he enjoyed. It seems miraculous that magazines once provided writers enough space for articles like the book's titular essay, a 15-page rant centered around Count Five, a '60s psychedelic quintet from San Jose that scored only one hit.

Like Lester, I relish the opportunity to blather on about bands I love. But I'm also compelled to react against the subculture of criticism his handiwork engendered. If all my peers are rushing to praise one burgeoning band, I'm all the more likely to devote my scant column inches to another unheralded artist instead.

Skipping down the road less traveled is not without pitfalls. The obscure nature of my subjects means rarely are there other opinions to measure my arguments against, and often no research materials to draw upon. Yet if the cheese stands utterly alone, does it still stink?

Which brings me to Ooh!, a band which I hadn't thought of in ages. The other day while digging through the deepest recesses of my glove compartment (in an attempt to placate a police officer sadly more zealous about writing me a ticket than letting me reenact my favorite scene from Copsucker), I came across a tape, made by a graduate sculpture student with whom I'd had a manic fling in college, labeled All the Notes You LOVED: An Idiot's Guide to Ooh!

Continuing home, I struggled to recall what Bertrand had told me about Ooh! in between bouts of animalistic lovemaking. The founding members, Shelley and Carol, had started out as go-go dancers for a Seattle garage band, shimmying on stage in matching skintight silver trousers. Hence the inspiration for the name of their first incarnation, All About Pants, about which Bertrand knew virtually nothing.

My grumpy lover, who'd spent his teens around the Emerald City during the mid-'80s, had discovered the girls during their next phase, when they apparently went under the monikers Meat and All About Meat. One night he showed me the tattered art journal clip that had first caught his eye, depicting a trio of women (Shelley, Carol, and "new member Britt") clad in outfits fashioned entirely from cured meats.

"They ripped that off from All Wrapped Up," I blurted out, referring to the 1983 album by Irish band the Undertones, which pictures a nubile model in similar drag on the cover. Bertrand scowled and flicked the ash from his Marlboro at me. Ooh!, he insisted, were calculated artists, not mindless punks, then went off on a rant about how Laurie Anderson and Karen Findley had pillaged bits from their overlooked canon. I scanned the photo again. They still looked like a cheap knock-off of the Slits.

But upon listening to Ooh! for the first time in over a decade, I had to concede that my paramour was onto something way back when. Admittedly, the tape isn't representative of their whole oeuvre, drawing only from their first few LPs, including Bertrand's favorite, All the Notes You Love. I remembered him going on about how the homophony of their second album title, C, with the word "see" reflected their obsession with visual style as substance, not in lieu of it, as was the prevalent viewpoint during the Reagan era.

To my ears, that "sounds-like" argument was more applicable to their debut, G, because "gee," like the name Ooh!, captured the sense of wonder radiating from their primitive music. Their extended songs fixated on a single note, spinning out in a pop-influenced variation on what I now recognize at LaMonte Young's experiments with drones. But Ooh! also added a rhythmic component via DJ Carol's turntable scratching—without deviating from the central note of each piece—that broke up its bed of buzzing guitars and wordless vocals.

I don't remember much else. Bertrand swore Ooh!'s later albums, bearing clunkier titles like Cornstarch Versus Baby Powder and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, weren't worth the vinyl they were pressed on. I wouldn't know; in all my years of used record shopping, from online auctions to dingy thrift stores, I've never come across any.

A couple years ago, I did spy that same photo of the trio-in-meat in a Japanese fanzine. Alas, the only words in English were a title, Notes Loved the All You: The Ooh! Remix Album, and the names of some fairly well-known DJs. I guess the CD was never made, which is just as well. Shoehorning Ooh!'s distinctive sound into formulaic house and techno tracks seems antithetical to its governing aesthetic. As Shelley said in one of Bertrand's yellowed clippings: "To this day we see ourselves as performers first, musicians second. Or maybe third or fourth."

 
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