Mystery Friday Episode One: It Came From The Basement

Mystery Friday Episode One: It Came From The Basement

Today surfaced a cardboard Eddie Bauer boot box, marked “Unknown,” in which was about three dozen cassettes, half lacking jewel boxes, most if not all unmarked. The sort of thing any sane man would have tossed out years ago.

But I can’t help wondering: What’s on these tapes? I’ll bet you’re wondering too.

Welcome to Episode One of Mystery Friday! Every week I will grab a tape from the Unknown Box, play it for you, and attempt to describe it. Here’s the first one:

Skels Unplugged

This is a Maxell XLII 46-minute cassette — an unusual length. When looking at side A, there is a small piece of transparent tape covering a missing recording tab on the left side (thus allowing recording to occur on Side B, right?). Someone, possibly me, has scrawled on the transparent portion of side A, in red marker, something that looks like “SKELS LIVE AT CBGB,” or possibly, “SKELS LIVE AT GCBD” or equally likely, “SKELS LIVPUSGCOO.”

UPDATE 3/25/2016: Upon further study, I have discerned The One True Title: SKELS UNPLUGGED. This is, of course, a regrettable reference to the long-running MTV series.
UPDATE 3/26/2016: Sport Murphy responds: “Interesting find. I’m guessing this was prep for a show that happened downtown probably at one of those Thom Jack rooms with maybe just us 3, circa 93 or so. It was near, but prior to the band’s end. You did play guitar.”

Let’s listen:

1) Sport Murphy on vocals and harmonium, Willy Liguori on acoustic guitar, and yours truly(!) on second acoustic guitar, perform “The Big Parade.” Sounds like a one-mic recording. Definitely not CBGB.

2) Same line-up, “Mighty Sun.” This evidently is a tape I made of a rehearsal for a show that, as far as I can recall, never happened. I’ve played bass and dulcimer on gigs, but not guitar — again, as far as I can remember, which is a stone’s throw. Nice harmonies on this.

3) “Unbecoming” – Good, strong version.

4) “She’s The One” – Arrangement notes, deliberately spoken close to the mic, are the only “flaw” here. Spirited and joyful. What’s with the crickets?

5) We work for a while on a cover of Scott Walker’s “The Bridge.” Starts to come together just before the tape runs out (here’s a cruelly unfair comparison that you will doubtless thank me for).

Well, well. I wonder what’s on Side B?

1) “Weeping Icon” – Did we really not play this show? Did we play this show? My mind is gone. It is impossible to play this song without smiling. That’ll show them Jews!

2) “Lord Help My Poor Soul” – Late period Skels song, inspired by Poe’s dying words. Fittingly it was released posthumously. I will love this song until my dying day.

3) “Pterydactyl” – thanks to Sport for reminding me of this title of this seldom-heard gem.

4) “Boy In The Sky” – Man, we are digging deep into the Skels’ repertoire. Nothing yet from Willoughby. When was this tape made?

5) Whoops! Suddenly cuts to the middle of “Ghosts Of New York,” the B-side of the first “7 by Time Or Dirt!

6) “Ghosts Of New York” again. Alternate mix? This song was inspired by Luc Sante’s Low Life — a book every New Yorker should read.

And…end.

Dating this tape is tricky. It seems post-Skels, but it’s definitely pre-Willoughby; only the Walker cover hints at ambitions greater than the Skels Greatest Hits we recorded that day. So, sometime between 1994 and 1999 — more likely earlier than later.

According to Sport (see update above) this was recorded shortly before The Skels split, circa 1993. Since “Ghosts” was not finally mixed until October 30 of that year, this would have to be late ’93 or early ’94. We did play the gog, according to Sport, but I have no memory of it.

Where was it recorded? I’ve no clue.

So ends the first episode of Mystery Friday! I look forward to doing more in the weeks and months to come. I hope this inspires some of you to dig out your old tapes — you never know what you’ll find!

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