Graded on a Curve:
Fred Lane, From the
One That Cut You

People talk all kinds of smack about the music of the ‘80s, and one recurring putdown directed at the era’s sounds regards their prevailing nature of conservatism. Perhaps that’s true on the pop surface, but if a listener simply did a little digging all sorts of edgy documents could be found. Indeed, a hungry ear could even locate stuff that was downright bonkers. One such example was Fred Lane, who along with a troop of Dada-inspired malcontents named Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs, knocked out a pair of screamingly subversive and darkly humorous albums during the decade. From the One That Cut You is their best, and anyone deriding the ‘80s as an overly safe place should definitely search out its truly bent agenda.

Records that land in the extreme, “out-there” and avant-garde categories of the record store can explode from all sorts of scenarios, but it’s pretty common for these expressions of the fringes and the forefronts in art-making to utilize the refuge of larger cities as they express their qualities of difference against the prevailing norms.

The idea that these agents of strangeness and their often contentious stylistic developments reliably hail from highly populated points of origin was far more prevalent in the era prior to the advancement of widespread global communication. These days, the ease of worldwide access obviously assists those thriving on the margins to feel considerably less isolated.

But before the big breakthrough of the global village, those in less metropolitan environments who felt themselves shunned or ostracized due to their idiosyncratic forms of expression often just packed up and left, concluding that the big city was the place they ought to be. And hopefully the reception there proved less hostile.

Additionally, the bustling, often severe nature of the urban experience couldn’t help but foster an atmosphere that promoted intense artistic reactions, many of them in some way forms of dissent over the alienation their very surroundings could produce.

Not every enduringly bizarre or stridently advanced emission from back in those days derived from Gotham however. And occasionally certain twisted records would announce their existence with their points of origin unclear; until evidence of the contrary surfaced it was almost instinctual to assume these albums sprung from locales possessing many or at least a few tall buildings.

That was the experience of this writer in regard to the distinctly warped discovery of Fred Lane. Looking back, it was quite easy to jump to the conclusion that From the One That Cut You, my introduction to the oddball stylings of Lane and Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs, originated in a city of some size, for it was issued through the auspices of Mark Kramer’s Shimmy Disc Records, a company that burst forth from the late-‘80s underground through albums by Shockabilly, Bongwater, the early King Missile (then going by the rather unwieldy moniker King Missile (Dog Fly Religion)), DC-to-NYC transplants Velvet Monkeys, and even the debut LP from conceptually costumed metallers, Gwar.

While From the One That Cut You’s lengthy credits didn’t list any of the usual Shimmy Disc suspects (the label’s releases came hard and fast and often featured a recurring parade of names, most frequently Kramer in the role of producer), that ultimately didn’t matter much, since the personnel were at least in part pseudonymous, flaunting handles like Abdul Ben Camel, Dimples La Croix, Whitey Stencil, “Bill” The Kid Dap, E. Baxter Put, Omar Bhag-dad-a, Johnny Fent-Lister, and Motor Hobson.

And after breaking the shrink-wrap and being knocked half-sideways by the sly genre subversions of From the One That Cut You, I erroneously evaluated it as a project that if not instigated by Kramer was at least in part sponsored by the guy, and also wrongly assumed the shadowy group that produced it was residing somewhere in the five boroughs of New York City.

Boy howdy was that off the mark, and it took an interval of roughly a dozen years and some curious snooping around on a then newfangled innovation called the internet (perhaps you’ve heard of it) to correct my faulty deductions. This whacked bunch weren’t from NYC. Not even close. They hailed from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and their existence spanned back to the mid-‘70s.

In 1975 Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs, a bunch of art-savvy upstarts led by Craig Nutt, staged at the University of Alabama what was essentially a Dadaist-inspired variety show. Rag-tag big band numbers (“My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)” and “Volare”) alternated with avant-garde provocations (“Concerto for Active Frogs”) and faux-anthropological musical studies (“The Chief Divisions of the Peoples of Gaul”). Throw in a door prize of four used tires and a cracked lounge-MC played with discomfiting but fascinating zeal by Tim Reed under the persona of Fred Lane and the whole thing easily becomes one of the more bizarre art-happenings of its period.

Luckily the whole thing was recorded and released a couple of years later under the title Raudelunas Pataphyscial Revue as the first release on the custom Say Day-Bew Records label. A thousand copies were pressed in all, and in vinyl form it’s currently rare as hen’s choppers. In 2003 a UK-based imprint called Alcohol reissued it on CD, though it can currently be heard in all its zonked glory on Soundcloud.

Alfred Jarry, Absurdist/Surrealist forerunner and writer of plays such as Ubu Roi and the novel Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician was a clearly stated influence on this left-field state-of-affairs. The most obvious connection was the will to provoke. Davey Williams, a guitarist noted for his solo work and as a member of Curlew along with his participation in the Debonairs under the nom de guerre Cyd Cherise, said it best; “…quite a lot of people came. Of course, quite a lot of people left immediately”.

Raudelunas Pataphyscial Revue is an amazing recording of a highly unique performance, but even with its variety show gone wrong concept, it’s unlikely those lacking a major experimental music jones will play it in full more than a couple of times. But From the One That Cut You, originally released on Say Day-Bew in 1983, is a boldly eccentric piece of art-damaged entertainment, though an unabashed love of the weird is needed to truly enjoy its contents.

But the very packaging itself should warn off those with an aversion to the outlandish, for the world can easily be divided into two camps; those that will purchase an LP sporting a picture of a handlebar-mustachioed and bespectacled cat in a tux with band-aids slapped all over his face and those who most definitely will not.

A big part of the increased user-friendliness on this slab comes down to the growth of the role of Reed as Lane. The album is credited to the guise after all, with the Lane character featuring on five of the eight cuts. Three return to the spoiled big-band vibe introduced on Raudelunas Pataphyscial Revue, with uptempo opener “Fun in the Fundus” finding Reed channeling a shell-shocked Dean Martin wannabe spewing lyrical imagery that borders on the deranged and taking a detour into some quite wobbly scat-singing. All the while the band gets in some loose but legit swinging as the horns grapple with the stressed-out overblowing of free-jazz.

The contrast of elements that are clearly “wrong” invading a turf long considered old-hat (and even moribund) is striking, and it succeeds mainly due to a shrewd editorial hand. Things get pushed to the brink, but in its ridiculousness there is also a tiny hint of believability. Part of it is the band’s possession of real jazz chops (though they do an excellent job of sounding undisciplined), but it’s also that Reed pulls off the persona of a misanthropic lounge urchin with a zest that remains quite impressive.

“Danger is My Beer” follows, an instrumental for guitar, bass, and drums that could’ve easily been the theme song for a hard-boiled ‘50s cop show (well, except for the weirdo touches at the end), the song predicting the more noir-like direction of the 1986 LP Car Radio Jerome, released by Lane and His Hittite Hot-Shots.

Next is “I Talk to My Haircut,” and we’re back in solidly shaky big-band mode. The recipe is essentially the same as “Fun in the Fundus,” except that the music begins to take on the tweaked arranging of a ‘60s-era TV-show band that just happened to employ a hyperventilating Archie Shepp on saxophone. Plus the lyrics of Reed/Lane jump full-on into a creepy sexually transgressive zone that might be a turn-off for some, though from my perspective it’s rather hard to take him/them seriously.

This subject matter continues on the title track, a C&W-based tune featuring words supposedly found written on a barely literate scrap of paper discovered in a secret compartment in a 1952 Dodge panel truck. Okay sure, if you say so. But in being highly questionable, this bit of colorful information actually relates a huge part of the whole appeal, specifically the blurring of the lines between reality and put-on.

Side two opens with “Rubber Room,” essentially the album’s tour de force. It sounds like a performance by a souped-up Vegas show band that slowly gets infiltrated by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. A beautiful racket ensues, bringing with it another bout of scat-singing. After this comes “Mystic Tune,” easily the only song I’ve ever heard that’s equally influenced by Ernie Kovacs and Don Van Vliet.

The penultimate track “Oatmeal” finds Reed diverting Lane into a slightly drunken hobo reciting an unusually erudite sailor song, and “Meat Clamp Conduit” ends the record with a fragile little whisper played on marimba.

From the One That Cut You is a spectacular LP from a group that’s very existence would be impossible to transform into fiction, with observers unfailingly carping that it’s all too over the top. Plus, they might have a hard time buying that it came from Alabama. But it did. And it’s all the better for it. And they could also struggle a bit with its origin in the ‘80s. But that’s from whence it rose. It’s all these things and more, standing as one of the very few records that can be accurately assessed as one-of-a-kind.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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