Stranded In Stereo: My Formative Years: For Nearby Stars by VPN

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Formative Years: For Nearby Stars by VPN

I always hated pop music. The syrupy, sweet saccharine encrusted candy-pop moved me to nausea. VPN was the first pop band I ever truly loved. I saw them only once. For me, musically it meant a radical change in perspective. As it is with humans, my devotion always signals the end of something.

I forget where I was. After a few years the churn of new trendy Manhattan venues into gelato stands distorts your memory. It might have been Mercury Lounge but my memory of the night is well-lit, though that seems impossible now. A balding blonde man sat behind the drum set and turned on an electric drill which begat the spinning of a set of colored bells. The colors swirled together and he then struck the bells individually. The effect was warbling and quivering like the playing of a saw or playing wineglasses. It was eerily melodic. I was there at the insistence of a dirty record guy. Paul Seff wherever you are, thank you.

Download "Flypaper" [MP3]

By the time I encountered VPN they’d walked backwards into a Bob Pollard influenced pop melancholia. The album For Nearby Stars was their great finale. I worked my way backwards accumulating their catalog. I picked up Small Wire which was if anything more melodic and more delicate. My obsession grew. Years later I was able to find their Boy with Only One Head EP on Big Ten Rex records.

Download "Turn Off" [MP3]

The Line up was ever-changing in their 10-year run. The line up around 2001 included both of singer Austin Hughes twin sisters Pat Hughes, Jean Rodd and Drummer Eddie Gormley performed with Vatican III and on some Babe the Blue Ox albums. The night I saw them Harrison Cannon from the band Geezer Lake was playing bass. But the music always remains emotionally complicated giving a heady almost poetic weight to every song.As I dug deeper my awe grew ungainly.

Download "High-Heeled Gloves" [MP3]

As you move backwards in their catalog they seem more and more like strange punk mutants equally related to Elvis Costello and Devo. What they had become by the time I encountered them was an entirely different animal. The name they’d used for a decade was ill-fitting. They embraced the acronym VPN and discarded the communist allusions. They were at least to the ear, an entirely different band.

But after that the trail drops off. The two LPs on Evil Teen records end their catalog. There is no definitive discography. They put out some 7-inches on D-tox records and Fang records in the early 1990s. I have accumulated all of these, even a mysterious one-sided translucent blue 7-inch labeled only LMNOP. Today Cannon and Hughes are in the dark bluegrass act the M. Shanghai String Band. The other member’s whereabouts are unknown.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's worth tracking down their early cassette release "Boing Boing Boing Boing" and 7" "Boyfriend in France" to hear the era when their name was more appropriate. They used to dress up in big-headed foam character suits before the shows too. It's too bad their early stuff & demo tracks are nearly impossible to find (and too bad even their legit releases are underappreciated!)