Nevermind the Band and all their coked-up superstar pals—here’s late ‘70s/early ‘80s Hoosier hysteria all over again, rounded up on a crucial-listening, handsomely-designed 2LP/DVD set.
BY FRED MILLS
Where were you in early ’82? If you’re a standard-issue music consumer, you certainly weren’t in mourning over the demise of Indiana punk/new wave pioneers Dow Jones and the Industrials a few months’ prior; you wouldn’t even have been aware of the band in the first place. But if you hailed from the Bloomington-Indianapolis-West Lafayette areas and were on the underground rock scene of the era, it’s likely that you were nursing the big gaping hole in your heart, because for two riotous years, the Dow gang had bum-rushed regional stages—from punk dives to college coffee houses to even the stray mental hospital—with an uncommon vim and vigor, burning its indelible image (and more than a few whacked-out musical hooks) into your impressionable, possibly chemically-altered, young brain.
The story of Dow Jones and the Industrials isn’t particularly unique: They formed, they hustled for whatever gigs they could scrape up, they cut a few songs, they broke up. I myself could list numerous outfits that populated my own music scene back (North Carolina) back then and had identical trajectories. Recall that this was going down before MTV, before so-called “alternative rock,” before the internet made it possible to spread the news of fresh music with the click of a mouse. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s we were at the mercy of indifferent (and sometimes outwardly hostile) club owners, clueless major record labels and nonexistent indie record distributors, and the occasional authority figure who suspected any musician not playing what was coming to be known as “classic rock” to be a Commie, speed-gobbling pervert hell-bent on corrupting their sons and sleeping with their daughters. (Well, that final bit was probably true…) We had, at best, a tiny, unorganized network of photocopied fanzines and college radio to stand up for our musical community. Save the stray maverick booker who though he knew how to ferret out (or otherwise establish) the proverbial “alternative venue,” that was it.
A community it was, though. Dow Jones and the Industrials—originally: Greg Horn (guitar, vocals), Chris Clark (bass, vocals), drummer Tim North, and Brad Garton (“Mr. Science”) on keyboards—also had the benefit of a musical peer community which, while tiny, was engaged and energetic—among them, the Gizmos, an equally aggressive/provocative combo from Bloomington who spotted kindred spirits in the West Lafayette lads (who were, at the time, students at Purdue University) and would wind up sharing stages (along with tips on decorating and dressing up for those stages) and splitting sides of a 1980 album, Hoosier Hysteria, on Bloomington label Gulcher, which also operated as a fanzine. Speaking of fanzines, of the two bands, the Gizmos probably notched a bit more “fame” (if you can call it that), as I remember reading about them on numerous occasions in fanzines from various locales; as I was publishing my own punk ‘zine at the time, I was lucky enough to be able swap rags with other ‘zine editors and obtain a semi-birds-eye view of stuff going on in the heartland. I did, however, get promos from Gulcher for my troubles, and therefore I got to hear both Dow Jones and the Gizmos via that split LP.
Can’t Stand the Midwest 1979-1981 recently arrived via Indianapolis indie label Family Vineyard, longtime home of misfits and iconoclasts (among them: Chris Corsano, Alan Licht, Loren Connors and Tom Carter) and no small supporter of artists hailing from the surrounding region and the rest of the Midwest. The two-LP/DVD set is one of several Dow-related artifacts, which include a reissue of the band’s 1981 self-titled 7” EP (whose three songs are also on Can’t Stand), the Live at Third Base: September 28, 1980 DVD that comes with Can’t Stand, and the 1978-1979 7” EP by one Mr. Science, aka Brad Garton, the Dow keyboardist. So you could probably call the Family Vineyard label’s Eric Weddle a fan. People don’t release music by obscure bands from 3 ½ decades ago because they’re trying to get rich.
And indeed, the album at hand is as pure a labor of a fan’s love as it gets, from the deluxe gatefold sleeve packaging and handsomely-designed 12-page booklet (all respect to ace art director Henry H. Owings, of Chunklet fame, for pulling this all together), to the copious liner notes in the booklet by Dale Lawrence (who, by virtue of being a member of the Gizmos can tell the whole tale from a first-hand perspective), to the music itself, which comprises Dow Jones and the Industrials’ entire recorded output.
First up are the Hoosier Hysteria tracks, highlighted by such delights as the staccato stylings of “What’s the Difference,” the buzzsaw riffing and blurted vox of “Set Yourself on Fire” (raise your hand if the melody vaguely recalls Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”), and the overtly DEVO-esque kineticism that is “Malfunction.”
The three 7” EP tracks from 1981 are next, among them the song that gave this collection its title, “Can’t Stand the Midwest,” in which the band details its, er, love affair of its cultural surroundings amid a kind of power-pop-at-78-rpm arrangement. With the exception of one track (“Ladies With Appliances,” from an ’81 Gulcher compilation of label artists), that was the sum total of music that Dow released in its time. But Weddle & Co. were able to dig up enough previously unissued material to essentially double the band’s studio output, and Indiana studio maestro Paul Mahern put in a considerable amount of time and effort to ensure that the audio quality of the material would be up to snuff.
Among my personal faves: “Latent Psychosis,” which aside from the archetypal punk songtitle, nicely revisits that itching-powder DEVO musical aesthetic; “Never Too Stoned to Disco,” a kind of Talking Heads-esque slab of sonic and lyrical snark; and “Don’t Complain About Muzak,” oddly anthemic, with a seriously sleek funk rhythm, interstellar keyboard zips/zooms/whooshes, and beautifully chaotic guitars. The fourth side of the 2LP set is given over to highlights from the Live at Third Base video soundtrack, including a loony, robotic reworking of “Louie Louie” which brings to mind DEVO’s dismantling of “Satisfaction” and segues smartly into “Latent Psychosis,” truly living up to its title while the brutally battered audience, such as it is, shrieks in terror and heads for the exits. (Below: watch a pair of live clips from 1980)
Okay, I made up that last part about the audience leaving. If someone attended a Dow concert, it wasn’t because they’d wandered into the venue by chance. In 1981, we were all hungry for whatever alternate musical viewpoints we could track down, and when we encountered something fresh and unusual, we embraced it with the kind of combined youthful naiveté and countercultural swagger that has fueled underground musical movements for ages. That type of energy can’t sustain itself, of course; folks graduate from college, take real jobs because their parents aren’t covering their rent any longer, get married and have kids, etc. During the time period covered on Can’t Stand the Midwest, folks pogoed the nights away while going-nowhere bands emitted a nonstop, beautiful racket, everyone oblivious to the world outside beyond the 7-11s and 24-hour waffle shops. But eventually, the sun was gonna come up, and we’d have no choice but stagger outside and squint in the morning light.
Luckily, with archival projects such as this one, everyone gets a chance for one final, lasting pogo. Speaking of which, there’s also a kind of pogo postscript to report: As the Family Vineyard website reports, in mid-September the group reunited for three gigs to mark the album’s release, including a Sept. 17 show at the Void in Bloomington that also featured the Gizmos. Set yourselves on fire, gents. (Above: one of the reunion gig posters. Below: a fairly-rough-but-watchable clip from Dow Jones, followed by a somewhat better one from the Gizmos. Here’s hoping the full sets will surface.)