This is one take on Megaphone Records and its history - on the innards
and surroundings of its roots and branches. On Jason Willett as its
informal-but-essential skeleton. On its ceaseless, impactful, and
exhilarating ricochet.

Nobody can really explain it - how such disparate forces could have
congealed and commingled for so long based on such marginal and
marginalized mutual creative obsessions. There are numbers of years
and myriad relationships (both cause-and-effect/afflict and personal)
involved, but the sheer fact of the matter is that it's all immaterial
when viewed in the face of such a gargantuan outpouring and overspill
of what, both in itself and in the intricate refinements
therein/thereunder, can only be described as the psychospiritual, and
certainly artistic, equivalent of lava.

Controversially, the first phase of things really began where it ended
- with Jad Fair, leader of Half Japanese and the bearer of far too
many titles, all deserved, in the world of music press. Jason, an
unwitting young iconoclast from Frederick, Maryland, fell into a
falling-apart Half Japanese in 1990 and saved the day, enlisting a
flock of fresh players from across the world to keep the band alive,
and subsequently embarking on a European tour with little-or-less
warning. The collective boon of this series of actions was numinous in
purpose - it gave Half Japanese a renewed structural integrity, and it
led Jason, whose musical vision had tended toward both the isolated
and the electronic, into a career in rock
music (although what rock music did to Jason is way-small potatoes
when viewed in comparison to what Jason ended up doing to rock music).

This convolution soon begot a local, and more consistently viable,
ensemble - The Pleasant Livers. A couple of Frederick allies and
seriously amazing Baltimore weirdos Fred Collins (vocals - described
by me as "a cross between Bill Cosby and an auctioneer on PCP") and
John Dierker (saxophone, organ - described by everyone has having
enough musical and personal verve for this solar system and easily
another) initially comprised this always-ramshackle crew, but it was
clear from the outset that the Livers were a Baltimore band (but not
in terms of keeping in step with prevailing Baltimore musical clichés
- more in the litany of anti-cultural infatuations that they embraced
by way of both the cumbersome-but-manic engagement of their music and
the kinetic synergy of their stage show). From this springboard was
formed The Recordings (with Dierker, Baltimore Neoist John Berndt, and
[later] the hypertensive, pulverizing, graphically squirming lunacy of
Bob Wagner on drums) whose bent was similar to the Pleasant Livers
only in its tenacious mischief (otherwise, the music operated purely
on hinges, levers, and skilled interactive prescience).

Happening concurrently was the inception of two of Jason's visions -
Megaphone Music and Megaphone Records. Megaphone Records was borne of
Jason's idealism alone. Nothing but idealism could have brought to
fruition a scenario so ridiculous as Jason the Businessman. And there
you have it. Megaphone's first releases seemed to indicate a degree of
austerity, even a coldness, in basic direction. No matter, though -
the more learned, "noble" breed of experimentation that hallmarked
Megaphone's first releases (especially those bookended by The Work's
Slow Crimes and See) provided the perfect backdrop for the explosion
of propulsively careless irreverence that would later ensue. That, and
they actually sold decently.

Megaphone Music, opened in the fall of 1990, was a heaven/haven for
experimental music of all ilk (all priced very cheaply, mind you),
stationed in the most unlikely of places - above an irascibly
administered antique store in downtown Frederick. Megaphone brought
many forward-looking and adventuresome musical acts to a blasé
Frederick that never deserved any of them (what follows is only a
smattering of them - Dog Faced Hermans, God Is My Co-Pilot, Boredoms,
Happy New Year, No Safety, Hasil Adkins, and Jac Berrocal). Endlessly
misunderstood, Megaphone Music starved in isolation for the next three
years, but not before wielding its import in some awfully significant
places.

Two punk-rock high-schoolers - a senior (Andrew Barranca - bass,
vocals, sax - theatrically and hilariously possessed) and a freshman
(me, Benb - drums, vocals, organ - referred to in the third person),
both truant and snot-nosed - took serious notice of Megaphone's
beaconesque existence, and dutifully spent what ought (not) to have
been schooldays in Jason's store. Andrew and Benb had formed a band
(Slamhound) that fell in with, and got recorded by, Jason. Then, Benb
and Jason formed a band (The Jaunties - founded in utter nihilistic
abandon, but with excruciating optimistic and catchy leanings). Then
Jason and Andrew formed a band (The Dentures - bombastic, squalid,
somehow exotic, and grotesquely indulgent), but not before Jason,
Andrew, and Benb had formed a band (The Attitude Robots - every ounce
of it a dysfunctional amphetamine stomachache snarl).

Jason closed up shop and moved to Baltimore at this point. If anything
was to change everything, this was the thing. He set up his new
studio/venue - right next to his bed - in Fred's basement. Here, freed
of the (gigantic) hassles intrinsic to running a record store, Jason
facilitated an incalculable upsurge in recording and playing. And two
new key bands burst into existence with shocking immediacy. Fresh from
the dissolution of the Recordings, Bob Wagner slipped inconspicuously
into the immediate fold as frontman of the Can Openers (he would
become conspicuous in an awful hurry). And, from some
excellent underbelly of Baltimore's (always fledgling, always failing)
film/art world thing came Martha Colburn, who (with Jason) gave us all
The Dramatics, who (singularly) has given the world incredible
visual/artistic stimulation via film, and who shared (with Jason) what
I refer to as The Great Megaphone Romance.

With all of these elements aligned as they were, Fred's basement grew
into an epicenter of an awesome proliferation of ideas and songs and
all ilk of deafening amusement. All of it was fortuitously captured on
rapidly deteriorating reels of 8-track tape that Jason had acquired at
very little cost from a former telephone-company employee and
sometime-country-music deejay. The intensity of work in the studio
ostensibly precluded much forward motion with Megaphone Records (which
was up to about a dozen releases at that point), while the music being
made in the studio - that which occupied so much
time, energy, and resources - had no avenue for release (with the
exception of the Jaunties' first album, recorded in 1993 and out on
RRR the next year).

Opinions might vary if ever it was a subject worthy of conjecture, but
I remember that it was Martha's Big Idea - pressing limited editions
of CDs by the nexus of forming/formed bands and regaling them with all
sorts of individualized artwork-type things, taking at least some cue
or another from Caroliner et. al. The label was to be a subsidiary of
Megaphone; so they (we?) called it Megaphone Limited.

Around the time of The Dramatics' first record release in late Summer
1994 (MEGA LTD 001), Jason moved into Martha's 5,000 square-foot,
heatless, lead-laden, barely inhabitable warehouse in very-downtown
Baltimore. The stage was set at last for full, unfettered musical
whatsoever to take place at any hour of the day, whether getting
insect carcasses from fly paper stuck in hair (as happened to me on
many occasions), bleeding upon instruments (as happened to everybody,
strangely enough, at some point), or pissing into toilets full of
water frozen solid (ditto last parenthetical clause). Martha made her
films there, and it was not long before the music and the film merged
in the most fantastical ways.

Converse to the almost-eternally-prevailing artistic trend that
dictates disappointment or retraction from a basis of promise,
Megaphone delivered endlessly with no promise given (and certainly not
ever solicited). The bands grew, exploded, imploded, heaved, stomped,
flitted, retched, writhed, and careened through an evolution
sufficiently accelerated and effortless as to appear invisible to
anyone outside of the progressively insular bubble of Megaphone
Limited people. Everything that everybody made within the confines of
that studio for nearly four years continued to expand in both breadth
and depth - collectively learning to stand with integrity in its edges
whilst pushing and finessing its boundaries. This was pure and
transcendent art, followed by a throng of exclamation points, backed
up to a point way beyond any claims of itself with potent, terrifying
authenticity. Among best friends, no less!

Records, records, records. Songs - too many of them, almost. Ideas.
Absolute fearlessness. And here it was - a movement of actual cultural
significance, despite the efforts of those involved to deny its status
as such. Fantastic players were imported to perform and/or to record
(Dirty Three, Metamkine, Spaceheads, Mick Hobbs, Ruins, Jac Berrocal,
Caroline Kraabel, John Edwards, Mike Evans, Ron Anderson, 99 Hooker,
James Chance, Dawson - again, just a fraction), some repeatedly (Jad
Fair, who would go on to record well over 1,500 songs with Jason in a
full-throttle monopoly of the studio at the warehouse).

In the meantime, Martha's films grew in direct accordance with the
music, and - this is key - her discipline in self-promotion garnered
her a notoriety that Megaphone could've shared, but didn't due to its
own lack of said discipline. So, while artistic advances continued on
nearly all fronts, subtle-but-fundamental changes were underway. The
increasing insularity mentioned earlier began to assume stringent
undertones. Things started suddenly to seem a bit desperate, a bit
scary in a netherworldly way The unspoken balance between life and art
- that which must be maintained in order to lend either any real
cogency - was submerged in a good-natured-but-self-destructive
hyperextension of personal resources. To do all that for the sake of a
vision denotes extraordinary conviction, but it also punches holes in
the sky to invite some terrifying black vastness to permeate every
molecule of everything or something. It's painful.

It's difficult indeed to say what happened without touching in some
way upon too-personal-for-you-the-reader relationship stuff, because
that's what it was on every level. I guess that, in short, the plot
was lost, both within and between people. The bottom fell out. Ugly -
not at all hateful, but spinning, uncontrollable and exhausted, into
some elusive stratosphere. Impossibly tragic. Here now, it seems
simpler and feels considerably less agonizing than it seemed and felt
then.

Megaphone's present is the product of both circuitous and substantial
reinvention. I don't know much of anything about it, but I bet that
it's stupendous, especially if it's fueled by the same flared-nostril
intent and celestial intention, and love as what was. At the end of
everything, it will be seen that this music was made with and by love.
As you wash the fly carcasses out of your hair, feel the love. Thank
you.

(written by benb gallaher)