Bongwater


To talk about Bongwater is to talk about its brainchild, Mark Kramer, forever known mononymously by his surname, and talk of him begets talk of his others recording projects, like B.A.L.L., which became Gumball after his departure, and his label, Shimmy Disc, and... it all quickly becomes overwhelming. Suffice it to say, he was a champion of the marginal—marginal artists, marginal scenes, marginal ideas—and cultivated a space for him and the revolving cast of characters he intersected with over the course of the 80s and 90s to steep in their weirdness and mature their esoteric or perverse or eccentric inclinations. Ween, Boredoms, Daniel Johnston, Jad Fair, Daevid Allen, the Butthole Surfers—the list of co-conspirators and collaborators is as long as it is inspiring.


Today, though, I'm going to do my best to focus my gaze solely on Kramer's Bongwater project, which he started with Ann Magnuson, after her stint in the post-disco downtown funk outfit Pulsallama, in 1985 and acrimoniously ended in 1992. ("Acrimoniously" is very much accurate here: after their romantic entanglement, Magnuson sued Kramer, then Kramer countersued Magnuson, and the whole affair concluded, years later, out of court and with Shimmy Disc in bankruptcy.)

From the beginning, Bongwater's specialty was producing these freaky, spare covers of songs by the likes of the 13th Floor Elevators, Gary Glitter, Johnny Cash, Led Zepplin. Their Cantonese-language version of "Dazed and Confused" is a particularly memorable example of the sort of shenanigans they'd get into.


Lo-fi grit and grime caked onto this technicolor collage of crunchy psych-rock, haggard garage, tape-loop noise, wacky novelty, ghostly spoken word. Kramer and Magnuson squirmed around so much they defied classification and purpose; the metanarratives and ironic self-reflections and tongue-in-cheek references make following them brain-meltingly complex. Yet there's something soothing in the cacophony, and I suppose it is this that's the crux of Kramer's appeal in general.

Might as well fall straight into the abyss and give yourself to Box of Bongwater, the comprehensive collection of all that is, was, and shall forever be Bongwater.

Before I drop that in here, though, let me share one of their "hits," "Folk Song."



Think it neatly captures their unhinged, wicked sense of humor and overarching vibe.

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