Walls Of Genius by Evan Cantor
I think I first came across the Walls Of Genius moniker in about 1985. It was probably a mention in Option or one of the early magazines. In fact, there seemed to be a lot of talk about this nutty group at the time especially after, “Madness Lives”, their two tape retrospective of Cassette Culture at the time appeared. For me, their eclectic and irreverent approach reminded me of my own group, The Roots Of Madness from some years earlier. They were lo fi as hell and not ashamed to try virtually anything. Preposterous yes, and fun as all get out.
I had contact with both main members of the group, Evan Cantor and Little Fyodor. They also both established their own home taping “careers” at the same time. They were often assisted by other members of their local Colorado gang in WoG.
Walls Of Genius “Madness Lives” was an astonishing two tape compilation released in 1985. A veritable who’s who of the underground of the time.
Walls of Genius, Once Upon A Time…
It was the Spring of 1982 and I was playing the bass guitar in a new wave band with Ed Fowler on lead called Rumours Of Marriage. We had started to experiment, a la Jim Morrison and the Doors, with extended jam sessions and poetry fueled by a raving male-female lead dynamic. I had played in numerous bands over the years, had dropped in-and-out of college to do so, worked construction by day and played bass by night, for years. Plenty of these bands were good ones, but none of the groups ever lasted more than six months due to some charismatic band-leader type losing his mind and causing an implosion. I hadn’t even wanted to be the bass player in Rumours Of Marriage. I had originally wanted to be the recording engineer because none of the bands I ever played in had decent recordings and I had “had it” with musicians by that time. I figured if I could find a good band, I could run the tapes and become that sound engineer that every band so desperately needed. But one day Mikal and Riann’s bass player and second guitarist didn’t show up for practice… boom, I picked up the bass and in an instant replaced two musicians. That’s when I invited David Lichtenverg (later to become Little Fyodor) to run the 4-track reel-to-reel for Rumours Of Marriage. When Mikal, the charismatic band-leader, decided that he and Riann (hence the “rumour of marriage”) had to go to New York in order to be where the real action was, the band fell to pieces. By this time, I really had “had it” with the traditional music business.
But I was unhappy with the recordings because I couldn’t both play the bass and oversee the engineering. I started migrating from Boulder down to Aurora (a Denver ‘burb) on the weekends to visit with guitarist Ed Fowler. We would jam all day, drink all night, crash on the couch, get breakfast and watch the Broncos, then jam some more. We would run a cassette machine the whole time and recorded everything. We dragged Ed’s friends into the deal and made them sing and play also. We became the Ed’n Evan Hullabaloo, the Dirt Clods, Jerry’s Kids, whatever name suited us on that particular day. We used regular instruments, guitars, basses and keyboards, but also kid’s toys, home-made shakers and knockers and whatever we could get our hands on. It was mainly about having fun and not having some charismatic taskmaster trying to lead us in tow. Finally! David Lichtenverg was interested in our activity and eventually came on board. He had a radio show at Boulder’s KGNU (still does) and through that connection we performed on late-night live-radio and met a lot of interesting people. One rich lady named Natasha was looking to rent out her fancy house in Eldorado Springs to artists of some kind and had heard David’s radio show with us performing live. I needed a place at the time, but I couldn’t afford to rent the place on my own. David pitched in, and then we had a studio for all these haphazard recording and jam sessions. This was the summer of 1983 and we kept recording, under a different name every time. It was at this time that I happened upon OP Magazine one day while doing my laundry at the Table Mesa Laundromat. OP was a revelation. I realized that there was a scene, albeit disjointed and spread out all over the place, in which we could participate with the music we were making.
Eventually Natasha kicked me out of the Eldorado Springs house (“Why don’t you Jews go back to New York where you came from”) and we moved into the later-dubbed “Hall Of Genius” on 19th Street in downtown Boulder. We turned the living room into a recording studio and kept on recording under different band names every time we played. “Walls Of Genius” was originally a title for a cassette featuring the “bands” Spazz Attack, Excitable Dogs, Vegetables Behind The Wheel and The Crooning Goons. We were definitely psyched-up about going wild, rebelling against anything we thought was a traditional approach and felt like we had figured out how to harness our own internal anomie and madness for creative purposes. The “Walls Of Genius” cassette was likely the first appearance of “Little Fyodor”, as Ed and I had handed David the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” one fateful afternoon and instructed him to “sing and go wild”. We didn’t know if he could sing. Some people may still be wondering…
We started trading tapes with the other people we read about in OP Magazine. I don’t know who the first contact was, but I can recall confessing undying love and dedication to Roberta Eklund and Tara Cross. There was a real thread of sado-masochistic culture in the underground at that time and I think we all had rich fantasy lives. I have no idea where or what most of our contacts are up to these days. The name “Walls Of Genius” stuck and from that point forward we used it as a nom-de-plume overseeing all our projects. Live performances were “Walls Of Genius Presents”. If you came to see Walls Of Genius, you might be getting Strange Rituals, the Runaway Trucks, the Flaming Jerks, the Fabulous Pus Tones or the Fur Balls From Outer Space. Every performance would feature some long psychedelic jam sessions and maniacal cover tunes, David and I morphing into the Fabulous Pus Tones for the occasion.
In the beginning, we realized that we had inadvertently created the illusion of a “scene” of underground bands in Boulder, Colorado, although people caught on to the joke pretty quick. But the joke was self-prophetic as other groups emerged all around us. We tried to dovetail with a growing underground in Denver, getting in on the Festival Of Pain. For a while, we had an ill-fated partnership with aleatoric non-musicians Architects Office and recorded and produced their first two releases. We collaborated with avant-garde classical composer Timm Lenk via our connections with KGNU radio. We experimented later on with total acoustic free-jazz in an abandoned schoolhouse with Leo Goya’s group Miracle and then released edited recordings on the Walls Of Genius “label”. Attempting to capture the attention of the disparate elements of the underground, we experimented with sound-collage and musique concrete. Where I got the recording of Ronald Reagan (“Four More Years”) saying “You push a button and somebody blows up twenty minutes later”, I cannot for the life of me recall. Would he have dared to say such a thing on television? The atomic bomb explosions and marching soldiers came off a 33-1/3 LP of sound effects that I found at the university library. I sat in front of the tv and the radio with a cassette machine and a microphone recording whatever was of sonic interest at the time. We recorded the entire soundtrack of the fifties sci-fi movie “Mars Needs Women” off the tv and then played it through a PA as the basis of a lengthy jam session. At the top of our game, we gathered tracks from all over the underground for two compilations, “Madness Lives” and “Son Of Madness”, both of which feature the cream of the underground do-it-yourself cassette-culture crop of the period.
We managed to actually sell around 250 of our cassette albums, while distributing a total of nearly 900. This doesn’t sound like much, but it was a lot of work and our lives were totally consumed by it. The sale of cassettes enabled us to buy more tape and postage. I was sneaking into my workplace beyond midnight to produce photocopied Walls of Genius catalogs. I would issue a “certificate of Genius” to anybody who bought a cassette album. I was doing the artwork for and producing catalogs that were sent out to several hundred names internationally. We tried to promote ourselves to Rough Trade, Ralph Records and the just-emergent Rhino Records, but all we got were very nice rejection letters. It turned out that what had started as an anti-establishmentarian project had morphed into a furtive attempt to establish ourselves in a new establishment (the cassette culture). Because we did so many different kinds of music, and did them successfully, we touched a wide variety of musicians and artists in the do-it-yourself scene. It was this manic pace (over 25 titles in 3 years) that finally burned me out. I’m not sure if we had paced ourselves better it could have lasted longer, but that was not to be. But hey, what a ride….