Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reconnecting with Tissue

Those of us growing up in Southern California during 1978-1983 may remember the Long Beach-based Suburban Lawns. Their rise accelerated and gained certain acutity when Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) directed their first video Gidget Goes to Hell. A happenstance that no doubt had everything to do with it being aired on Saturday Night Live. Local radio airplay and print attention followed (their Slash cover at right) leading to a respectably successful album (by local band standards). The Lawns are also one of the few bands of the period that in retrospect don't come off as hopelessly dated. (Or, like all of 80s music, for that matter.) To prove the point, check the local bounty of material available at this site.

The Suburban Lawns sound eschewed the trendy posturings of digital synths and de riguer flanged guitars. making the sound practically classic rock by today's standards. And singer/keyboardist Su Tissue herself (nee Sue McLane), with all her quirks, conceits, vocal sound effects and coloratura—a kind of bottled-up Yoko Ono—still sounds innovative. Features that keep the band's sound as perky and collagen fresh as it was when it was recorded. You might think Tissue's vocal stylings were a mirror to her soul as her onstage persona radiated both an extremity of adorableness and a nerd-like unsocialized quality. Clearly, the band was far less interesting when she wasn't behind the mic. (She was a good piano player too.) Her personal style had its adherents: One fan described her as able "to pull off of a remarkable mix of Little House on the Prairie meets the Manson Girls, beautifully." (I don't agree with the sinister angle of the Manson family, but okay.) Google the band now and find a robust amount of ongoing interwebs activity: Their cult is still very much alive. A legacy that's owed all to her.

The band's complete canon included a couple of singles, an album, and a five song EP before the internal momentum fizzled out. The final recordings pointed toward interesting new possibilities, a kind of Cocteau Twins cum slightly funkier Bowie-Eno trilogy direction, but with more humor. Post-Lawns, Tissue continued studying at the Berklee College of Music (after earlier attending Calarts—poor little rich girl) and recorded a short album of ambient instrumental music—30 minutes of slight variations on a groovey piano figure with added layers of ambiance (done in the days before digital loops). It would've made an arresting soundtrack to a wistful French film at a seaside. All of this would've had us hoping for bigger things to come from her. Alas, it was not to be.

A recent interview with former member Frankie Ennui offers some insight. Find it here.
An original pic sleeve of Gidget Goes to Hell is on eBay for $55.

All of these should be long out of print now.
Suburban Lawns: Gidget Goes to Hell self-issued 7" inch single (1979)
Suburnan Lawns: Baby from Baby EP (1983)
Su Tissue: 2nd Movement from Salon de Musique (1982)

A personal note: Once, I was in a band. We had the opportunity to open for Suburban Lawns at the Cuckoos Nest in Costa Mesa, CA ca. 1981. The Lawns at the time were getting loads of local air play. As was often the case, I'd have school and work the next day (community college, no Calarts for me) so I'd gather up my equipment (an organ and electric piano/harpsichord [pre-digital], a guitar, an amp, cords and sundry other crap that'd require five trips to the car to load) and leave early as was my habit. (During my time we'd play with Jonathon Richman, Violent Femmes, X, The Go-Gos, and other bands long gone from memory. I'd leave before they all went on too. Yeah, I was a fool.) The club was quite packed that night (we didn't often get to play to full houses so it was very exciting—it was the peak of my very, very short musical career). We did very well that night. The audience was loud and enthusiastic and we were beside ourselves. (Our band was also co-ed: two girls and three boys.) Our success had apparently unraveled Ms. Tissue. She paced around the "backstage" loft before going on and talked to herself unconsolably in a kind of repetitive Rain Man way. (This was a secondhand account told to me by another band member.) I could only attribute her reaction to her highly creative and requisitely insecure artistic nature. I never got the chance to see her live but from what I've seen on YouTube, while the band was certainly interesting they could appear a little stiff on stage. As a young man admiring Tissue from afar, she was a nerd's lust fetish of a girl: Cute, physically awkward, unpretentiously brilliant (I'm guessing), socially clumsy, and just diffident enough in ways that young men can ruthlessly exploit (again, I'm guessing). I'm sure I would've loved her. Even now, imagining her in her overripe suburban middle-age with pictures of the kids covering the dust-covered piano she's still the thinking older man's bohemian heartthrob.


The Mayfly said...

Excellent post.

Excellent tastes.

Thank you.

Dylan Hodge said...

Alas the interview link doesnt work anymore :(

Deiter said...

Mr. Hodge, the link has been fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

The Editorial Staff at Jellyroll

garyhope said...

I was lucky enough to be living in LA in the 70's and 80's when there was so much great music around. Both big names and local punk bands etc.

I remember the first time I saw and heard the Suburban Lawns, not at a club but at somebody's studio in Hollywood. The first time I heard Ms. Tissue open her mouth and sing, I almost fell over. I was stunned. She didn't sound like anybody that I had ever heard. She was totally unique in both her singing and image. I saw them a couple of more times around LA and in Long Beach. They were a great and original band.

I still have some of their records or "LP's" on vinyl. Good grief, that was almost 40 years ago. LA was a great place for music then and concerts used to be really affordable then if not downright cheap and sometimes free. Amazing.

You could also get tickets for some concerts the day of the show at places like The Hollywood Palladium, Santa Monica Civic and the clubs like The Whiskey, The Troubadour, Starwood, Club 88 and other dives and dumps whose names I have forgotten. The Lawns deserve more recognition.

Deiter said...

Egads! The Starwood and Club 88: I spent many a night there myself. Cheers to a fellow grayhead!

garyhope said...

I used to go to Starwood SO much that they started letting me in for free through the "VIP" entrance.

I usually only went out from Sunday nights to Thursday nights. I thought that Friday and Saturday nights were for "amateurs". I usually didn't start getting ready until about 10 PM. The real hard core was out on Monday and Tuesday nights. I think the Club 88 was on the low end of the club totem pole after The Whiskey, Roxy, Wong's and the Hong Kong.

I saw the Go Go's play at the 88 when Belinda Carlisle was fat and they were wearing plastic trash bags as dresses.

I'm not a "gray" head, I'm a white head and short hair. Cut it myself with electric clippers. I used to have a big curly "fro" sometimes with purple or green in it.

Are you German? I went to high school in Munich and graduated there. Munich was great. Changed my life.

Deiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deiter said...

I"m only German by ancestry. I never had the luxury of being a club "amateur" as I usually had work or school in the morning. Props to your commitment to the high life! Remember when you could go to Hollywood and just park in the neighborhoods? Those were the days. The Whiskey was $5. I was in a band that played with the Go Gos early on (on a bill with X) – when Belinda Carlisle wasn't quite so Playboy-rific. They wore lots of spandex and still had a long way to go, musically speaking. It was a great time to be in a band. on Reconnecting with Tissue

Peter Mullen said...

I hung out at the cuckoos nest but made it LA on the weekends- hear they just destroyed the Atomic Cafe building. What a great time for freakin weirdness it was.

Deiter said...

Well, Mr Mullen, in any event, it was our time. Today, my daughter goes to concerts and already knows people she's standing with in line because they'd met through Twitter. Everything you could possibly want to know about a band is on the internet (not to mention illegal downloading). Maybe this is the golden age.

As for the Atomic Café, I remember it well: Lousy food but a great vibe.

Perkunas said...

Their music is now available on Hoopla Digital as a loan.

Fresh Water Fishes of L.A. said...

Saw them in '82 or '83, great live performance, played about 3-4 songs, people were yelling play "Janitor" Su said "don't tell me what to sing (play)" and walked off the stage. Show was over! I wanted to hear more, but it was kinda cool just to walk away. Maybe that's why they only had one full album.

David Murphy said...

Your anecdote of such austere hyperbole regarding the Manson Girls quip is most telling.PUSS

Deiter said...

Fresh Water Fishes of L.A., you must've seen them right near the end, post-classic period. Thanks for sharing that!

David Murphy, was this my first piece of hate mail? Such an honor! ...austere hyperbole... I don't know what that means but I appreciate the association. Thanks for reading!

garyhope said...

"Austere Hyperbole",....I love it. I wish someone would say that about some of my art.

I still remember "the Lawns" and the unique and perhaps eccentric Ms. Tissue. The "Lawns" deserve more recognition and remembrance.

Cheers to all old rockers.

Peter Mullen said...

Anyone remember the Tiki Gods- girl band? Or the Nu- Beams from Costa Mesa, they attached kitchen electrical appliances to their instruments, played the blender/guitar w/ insane feedback.

Deiter said...

Peter Mullen, I do remember The Nu-Beams. (Men Like Pie!) I was in a band (that shall remain nameless) that played with them on several occasions. I remember being envious of their drum machine as we struggled with live people. Their bass player's facial antics seemed to owe much to the Rick Neilson School (of Cheap Trick). They were a good time. I never saw the Tiki Gods but they sound familiar (sounds like they presaged the silly Cocktail Nation culture that'd later follow).

Remember The Fibonaccis? Null and Void? The B People? Choir Invisible?

garyhope said...

I remember the Fibonacis. Still have some of their disks, LP's or whatever they're called now. Still love "Purple Haze" and post it from time to time on Facebook. Maggie Song,...great name for a "singer".

Deiter said...

Gary Hope, the Fibonaccis may've been ahead of their time. Agree with you on Purple Haze.

r/b said...

Su, where have you gone?

garyhope said...

Yes, r/b where has Ms. Tissue gone? Her disappearance is a loss for the world. Did I read that she's studying music composition or philosophy at a college or university somewhere on the East coast? Probably wants nothing to do with her past musical endeavors.

Cheers to all old LA music fans and days. I had so much fun then.

Any Lene Lovich and Nina Hagen fans out there and still alive? I am SO OLD.

But still kicking.

Deiter said...

She'd the wisdom and restraint to know when the moment was done and past and so moved on. It would've been interesting to see what else she might've come up with, but, if her solo album was any indication, she was off into another direction entirely. The brilliant Janitor warbles were probably her last.