"WHY DO PUNK-rock guys go out with new-wave girls?" Even if Ron House had never again posed so pressing a query to the Eighties indie-rock subculture he both typified and embarrassed, that question, from "Letter to a Fanzine," would have earned the sardonic Ohioan a place in rock 'n' roll history. Not that House has much cared for what rock would bequeath to posterity. By 1995 he was suggesting that Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just a few hours up Highway 71 from House's hometown, Columbus, should be bombed to rubble. ("I don't want to see Eric Clapton stuffed, baby!" he sings.) A punk to his unruly heart, House always sounds comfortable with the disposability of his homemade culture--as the spoken coda to "Letter to a Fanzine" asks, "A subscription for life means how many issues? Five?"
But in our great boutique culture, no one can slip under the reissue radar forever, and so here comes the collected entirety of House's output with his band Great Plains: two compact discs and, as the label boasts, "Exactly fifty tracks!" which is only true, actually, if you skip track one, "Dr. Demento's Intro," which I certainly recommend you do. Rarely do that top-hatted quack and I laugh in unison, but apparently a song about "Rutherford B. Hayes" (which focuses less on his purloined election than his imagined disappointment at grandson Woody's Buckeyes losing a bowl game to Michigan) is capable of traversing great divides of cultural sensibility.
Is two discs overkill? Well, sure--only frantic collectors and light sleepers will want to fully document the band's evolution from rhyming standup spoofs set to dimly recorded organ-drenched garage rock, to rhyming standup spoofs with a sentimental undertow set to punchily recorded organ-drenched garage rock. But no one should live without "Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking," an ode to "two dead men...toast/Ing to freedom and protest," which is grandly celebratory in tone. House still exists, incidentally, and rambles in his Jad Fair grown-up-wrong warble with his new band, the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, who reportedly released a new album this year. I never saw it, and I still haven't been able to track down 1997's Straight to Video. If you find a copy of either, drop me a line, will ya?
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