A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC PROF,
our Michigan Correspondent
My last five years on the radio in Santa Cruz, there were two ideas behind my show. The first was that there was a staggering amount of great music being made that hardly anyone was hearing and, relatedly, if I could start my show more quietly and accessibly with each set getting louder and each set being louder than the last, then I might push the bounds of listeners’ existing tolerances into new realms.
Michael Hall began his musical career as one of the two consistent members of the cowpunk -as I knew it in the mid-80s – band, Wild Seeds. Big in their hometown of Austin, Texas, and a group people who frequented independent record shops and/or listened to college radio had likely heard of, even if they hadn’t heard much from them. Hall wrote, sang and played guitar for the band, though he handed off vocals to the magnificent Kris McKay (see “Baby You Scare Me” as well as the bonus track below) over the course of the band’s short life… a life killed off by the bankruptcy of their label in 1989.
The release of his first solo record, Quarter to Three (1990), was sufficiently limited that I full on missed it and only started to catch up with Love is Murder (1992). You’re not into music if you haven’t purchased or taken a listen to a record for no other reason than the cover art… Love is Murder has a young 1950s couple looking out the back window of a yellow sedan, smiling, below which you read the album title. Then there are the song titles, “Let’s Take Some Drugs and Drive Around” (included here), “Put Down that Pig”, “What Did They Do with the President’s Brain”? What I found was that Hall was absolutely irreverent, a great recounter of the crap life can be and yet utterly and completely and totally infatuated with the prospect of robust, deep, permanent love… while unstinting in chronicling its contradictions. See “Baby You Scare Me.” If you want the more humorous tunes, they’re on youtube, you’ll enjoy them, but the others are more skillful and moving, rich and rewarding (I’ve been reading Horkheimer and Adorno on “The Culture Industry,” mea culpa.)
1994’s Adequate Desire was next, and Hall introduced a new theme to his work, on top of love, there’s now death. The death of love and just plain murder, untethered from love, arrives with Day (1996), but so also does “The Museum of Giant Puppets, PA.” The next two records are with a band he assembled, The Woodpeckers, before a final album, The Song He Was Listening to When He Died, in 2006. As far as I can tell, and as others I’ve read have reported, it seems like Hall called it quits after that record. You can find articles by him in publications connected to Austin in one way or another, after 2006, but I tried writing him an email to express my admiration and hopes for more in the pipeline 7-8 years ago… no response.
Even to his most conventionally structured songs, there’s a narrative and visual quality to Hall’s work that always moves me in one way or another. There’s an emotional sophistication and nuanced analytic sensibility I rarely find in any genre. It irked me that musicians like Hall didn’t get recognition, fame, and money for their skills when I was younger and maybe that these ICAs (my first outlet for 25 years for getting music out into some semblance of a public arena) that is what’s dredging these feelings up again, but I simply can’t understand how work this good didn’t sell. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know labels and distribution deals and cost structures and life happenings and the fickle blinders of popular taste but jeez so, so, so much talent has been denied/wrecked/wasted over the years, it’s just not right.) Hope this goes over well and you drink of it deeply.
1. Michael Hall – Let’s Take Some Drugs and Drive Around – from Love is Murder (1992)
2. Michael Hall – Amelia – from The Song He Was Listening to When He Died (2006)
3. Michael Hall – Las Vegas – from Day (1996)
4. Michael Hall – Baby You Scare Me – from Love is Murder (1992)
5. Michael Hall – I Just Do – from Adequate Desire (1994)
6. Michael Hall – The Museum of Giant Puppets, PA – from Day (1996)
7. Michael Hall – Hello, Mr. Death – from Adequate Desire (1994)
8. Michael Hall – Their First Murder – from Day (1996)
9. Michael Hall – River of Love – from Love is Murder (1992)
10. Michael Hall and the Woodpeckers – The Train will Surely Come – from Dead by Dinner (1999)
Bonus: Kris McKay – One Man Crusade (Rainer Ptacek cover) – from The Inner Flame – A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek (2012 – second release)