Dance Dogs Dance
Side 1: DANCE DOGS DANCE, I DON'T LIKE LINOEUM, BURN IN HEAVEN, POP DOORMAT, BAD BAD BOY, FINGER PICTURES, RAZOR HAND, Side 2: BELLS ARE RINGING, GOLDEN MOMENT, POIGNANT, DRAWN BY YOU, LITTLE GREEN THING
Dance Dogs Dance LP
My first introduction to Bloomington, Indiana's DANCING CIGARETTES was their track "Broken Windows" on the seminal 1981 LP compilation Red Snerts. On a record that was already brimming with unconventional Indiana punk and New Wave, their track stood out at the end as an outright jittery, nervous breakdown. This LP collects snapshots of the band thoughout their existence from 1981-1983, chronicling both studio and live tracks. While associated closely with the Gulcher Records scene, the DANCING CIGARETTES were a bit of an anomaly in their town. They played off-kilter New / No Wave that was somehow equal parts TELEVISION, prog-rock, PERE UBU, and glam informed by Dada / SubGenius vibes... with a sax and warbly synthesizers! They existed in that sweet spot when punk was still pretty wide open in the early '80s, before the rigid boundaries started being set up. The live tracks flow into the studio cuts without any loss of momentum. All the tracks have been remastered and it sounds incredible. I can't recommend this enough!
[ Television ]
[ Pere Ubu ]
[ SubGenius ]
Magnetic South drops historic collection
The Dancing Cigarettes ruled the Bloomington new wave scene in the early 1980s. Rapidly morphing into a tight, innovative and yes, danceable art-rock band, they gigged constantly in Bloomington and toured the East Coast and Midwest. Every show at The Bluebird or Second Story was packed with ecstatic fans treated to a regular stream of new material and increasingly inspired performances.
The only thing missing was an album and had there been one back then, their legend would be far greater than it is today. Gulcher issued a 7" EP in 1980, just as the band began to gel, and there was a track on the 1981 Red Snerts compilation. Two posthumous CDs 1995's The School of Secret Music (Turnstyle / OR) and 2002's The Gulcher Recordings: 1980-1981 (Gulcher) documented much of the band's prolific output.
Thanks to Magnetic South, the Dancing Cigarettes not only have their full-length vinyl, they have a better release than anyone would imagine. Offering several tracks not on either CD and lovingly remastered by Paul Mahern, it crackles with vitality and excitement. Previously released tracks have a much stronger presence and power than their digital predecessors. Three live tracks from a landmark 1982 show at Chicago's Space Place demonstrate the band's live prowess while sounding better than typical archival live recordings.
Far more than the sum of their talented and versatile parts, the Cigs blended elements of off-kilter psych (Beefheart / Zappa), small town weirdness, downtown NYC's No New York scene and tuneful new wave (Talking Heads, Roxy Music). Songwriting, instrumentation and vocals were passed around, the limelight shared, while the band's trademark sound remained intact. Each of the Dancing Cigarettes gave everything to their music, at the expense of pretty much everything else. That passion leaps out of the grooves of this 35-years-too-late release, a belated reward for their blood, sweat and genius.
If you were there, this LP is a must. If you weren't, Dance Dogs Dance gets you pretty darn close.
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chapter in Rick Wilkerson's upcoming book
The Golden Age of Indiana Vinyl Records, 1950-1990
These Cigarettes are good for you
I saw this Bloomington, Indiana band in Pittsburgh in 1982 and have always thought it was one of the best shows I'd ever seen. Now comes this vinyl release covering material from 1981-83, some of it previously released on The School of Secret Music, some of it never before released. The Dancing Cigarettes had six members at their peak, a mix of male and female, many of whom were multi-instrumentalists capable on guitar, snyth, sax, keyboards, bass, or drums, which led to seemingly infinite combinations from one song to the next. The music was quirky, arty, sometimes discordant, sometimes almost sounding like the soundtrack to a video game, while the combination of different simultaneous high-pitched melodies, tempo changes, and stops-and-starts made dancing challenging yet mandatory.
I almost hate to single out favorite tunes because this album is enjoyable from beginning to end, but of course anybody listening to an album will have favorites. The previously unreleased tunes that I like best are "I Don't Like Linoleum," with irresistible chanted vocals and what sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis pounding away at a toy piano in the midst of the saxes and electronic sounds, and "Little Green Thing," one of three live performances, with its extended instrumental break that escalates into sheer madness and leaves the listener breathless. Of the previously-released tunes, favorites are "Burn in Heaven," with female vocals that remind me of Lene Lovich, and "Bells Are Ringing," a more "conventional" effort with its catchy sax melody over top a reedy organ. The strangest offering is the oddly compelling "Razor Hand," more akin to a performance art piece than a song, conjuring up images of a madman doing serious damage to himself, disturbing and amusing all at once.
The album comes with a download card, replicas of two gig posters, two postcards, and excellent liner notes penned by band member Tim Noe and apparent long-time fan Carrol Krause, the former of which concisely relates the band's history, the latter of which put you right there in Bloomington's college / artsy community during the Cigarettes' hey-day. In this download age, I'm an old-school music geek who likes the physical product when I can get it. I like to have as much information as possible about the band and the songs, and I like it when they throw in some extra goodies. They could probably sell just as many records without that stuff, but its inclusion makes me think, here's a band that cares about its fans and is worth supporting.
For me, the best period for music was 1979-83, when there were countless "new wave" bands and independent labels popping up everywhere, the bands all different from one another, the fans united and open-minded to anything. Soon bands broke up, what was known as "new wave" declined into tame, ordinary dance music by people with spiked hair. At the other extreme, hardcore would emerge, which was fine, but once again, music fans were divided into camps with the fans identifying themselves with dance music or hardcore and not interested in hearing anything else. Now we have this vinyl release by the Dancing Cigarettes, hot on the heels of one by Pittsburgh's Carsickness which covered roughly the same period and also featured a mix of previously released and unreleased material. I'm glad to see there's renewed interest in this stuff. Maybe there's hope for the world yet.
[ Lene Lovich ]
[ Carsickness ]
Still Dancing with Cigarettes
[ editor's note: For several years in the early 80s, the Dancing Cigarettes were the Bloomington band. Most of the band members, at one time or another, lived in the Allen Building (above the Uptown Cafe), Bloomington's own little Chelsea Hotel. Ryder headquarters were in the same building. Yet somehow, despite their widespread musical popularity, despite their domestic proximity to our publishing empire, despite the fact that we shared a bathroom, they never appeared on our cover, an oversight which it has taken only thirty years to correct. It's been said of the Velvet Underground's debut album that although it didn't sell very well, everyone who did buy a copy started their own band. The Cigs have released a new album of archival recordings. Pick up a copy at one of our independent records stores. And then think about starting a band. And yes, we're well aware of how old you are don't let that stop you. ]
( CLICK ON SMALL PIC TO VIEW BIG PIC )
"Dance, dogs, dance; Yip yip yeah; Glory days, yeah, glory days." For a band that disbanded more than 30 years ago, the Dancing Cigarettes have remained an important and enduring voice in American postmodern pop. Their songs are as remarkably fresh, dynamic, playful, assertively cacophonous, and viscerally enjoyable as they were when we heard them live during the band's brief existence.
Most of the Cigarettes' recorded output has been produced and released long after the band's active years together (1980-1983). Retrospective CD compilations were released in 1996 and 2002. Now, Bloomington's Magnetic South label has released a new vinyl-only LP collection of Dancing Cigarettes recordings: Dance Dogs Dance. Packed with posters, postcards, album notes, and other value-add inserts, the record is another welcome addition to the canon of DC retrospective releases.
Dance Dogs Dance includes 4 previously unreleased recordings and 8 remastered songs from the 1996 CD, The School of Secret Music (released on Turnstyle Media). All 12 songs sound much better, fuller, and more sonically wonderful than anything that has yet been released from the Cigs catalogue of studio and live recordings. The album's amazing sound quality is due to the incomparable remastering and remixing talents of Paul Mahern, working in close collaboration with former Cigarettes band member, John Terrill, who selected the tunes, the song sequence, the accompanying materials, and generally coordinated this entire project.
The Dancing Cigarettes were an early-80s local phenom, but there's nothing 'big-hair-and-clubwear' about them. They were an amazing group of artists who gave extraordinary performances, driven by compelling tunes. And yet, above all else, they were a cult band. As one of their followers, I'm absolutely comfortable with that description, and admission. If they had achieved commercial success, their tenure as a band would not have been so fleeting. Yet because their music was confoundingly just beyond the reach of broad public appreciation so avant-popularité it had all the more appeal to those of us who so relished it.
Fans of the band included titans of the American avant-garde: composer Robert Moran, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, novelist William Burroughs, poet John Giorno, guitarist Arto Lindsay, and others. Mainly, though, devotees of the Dancing Cigarettes included a mostly-Midwestern network of liberal arts students; youthful "no-coast" budding intellectuals who craved and loved the Cigs' full-throttle musical modernism written for dance floor consumption.
Everything about the Cigarettes' music championed creative originality blended with a genuine appreciation for having fun; "smart" fun perhaps, but definitely fun. That's the inventive je ne sais quoi that still resonates in DC tunes after all these years, and gives their songs an enviable freshness that transcends pop music's normal "generational" character.
That resilient musical vitality is getting overdue documentation through the Cigarettes' post-break-up albums; and among those recordings, Dance Dogs Dance is a magnificent release; 12 tunes that leap out of my speakers with a sonic fortitude that makes me laugh out loud. The music remains as powerful, exciting, delightful and distinct as it ever was. Endless listening pleasure… boundless joy… Would that more bands actually (ever) coalesce into the masterful cohesion of talents and ideas the seamless musical mix of innovation and familiarity that characterized the Dancing Cigarettes. Glory days, yeah, glory days.
[ Moran ]
[ Mitchell ]
[ Burroughs ]
[ Giorno ]
[ Lindsay ]
When Cigs last in the dooryard danced
I get so tired of waiting; what am I waiting for?
I slam myself against waves of sound and bystanders. My clumsy frame in freefall, I throw wide my arms and inhibitions. No time to think; no time to wait for right moves and moments. Dancing to Dancing Cigarettes is commitment and abandon; dance floor ecstasy and the exorcism of banality. Squealing synth, meandering bass lines over noisy guitars, banging metal and neat drumming. When words are sung, modernist tales unfold thru poetry, cheap microphones, sweat and smoke. I hear everything and I hear nothing; nothing but golden moment memories being made; poignant moments of long goodbyes.
The Dancing Cigarettes were a sextet of well-matched creative minds: Michael Gitlin (guitar, vocals), Tim Noe (keyboards, sax, guitar, vocals), Don Trubey (guitar, sax, drums, vocals), Emily Bonus (bass, vocals), John Terrill (drums, guitar, vocals), and Jaclyn Oddi (keyboards, percussion, sax, vocals). With so many multi-instrumentalists in the band, songs and arrangements traversed a wide and varied range of sounds and textures.
(a.k.a. Gordon Trubey)
According to Noe, the band was "informed and connected by a cursory yet immersive knowledge of contrarian art (Dada & Surrealism, the Beats & Dylan, the awkward extremes of jazz & progressive rock, avant garage and Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, punk & new / no wave)." It was the right cultural mix for a mixed-up time. During their brief three-and-a-half-year existence, the Cigs gigged all over the Midwest and mounted tours to the East Coast and occasional jaunts west of the Mississippi. Many of their shows attracted crowds in the hundreds; other shows made the touring tough.
If it's funny then it's funny in the wrong way.
"Bells Are Ringing"
The Cigarettes wrote their own material, playing covers very rarely. They were relentlessly inventive, musically and poetically. Quirky, jerky, dissonant instrumentals were a mainstay of DC concert sets. Half the fun of every live show was hearing what they had to say when they said nothing (lyrically) at all. The other half of the time, "songs tended to be authored by one or two members, and usually all members crafted their own parts," as Noe recalls. "Lyrics were often written collectively. Tension and humor were frequent companions. Elements and results were unstable and, finally, unsustainable."
It's a great thing to see an ever-growing number of Dancing Cigarettes recordings released on CD and now vinyl (with the release of Dance Dogs Dance). The Cigs' legacy is worthy of attention, maintenance, and expansion. Wikipedia has a Dancing Cigarettes entry, as well as the less familiar Musical Family Tree (www.musicalfamilytree.com). And YouTube features a dozen or so DC videos of past live shows and select studio recordings.
Happily, across all media and DC documentarians, the archival mood is decidedly upbeat: proud of past accomplishments and mindful of these tunes as springboards to new thoughts and creative explorations. No time for elegies and lamentations. Great music remains great music, outside the fog of reverie, beyond the taint of fatuous reminiscence. The DC tribe isn't selling that shtick. And anyway, the Cigs are on the box and I need to jump around.
From me to thee glad serenades; Dances for thee I propose saluting thee.
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