I'm a musician. I've toured a lot and met some really cool people. I've played damn near everywhere in the lower 48 and had a lot of fun doing it. Billy, the singer from the Blue Meanies, came to one of JVA's shows at a skate park in Hot Springs, Ark. It's a place that's so nice and so out of the way, with such great people and history that I would probably live there before anywhere else in the country except my home in Lincoln.
Arkansas, you say?
Yes. It's wonderful there.
We didn't know who he was, but we started talking to him anyway because he was nice and seemed a little out of place at a punk show at a skate shop by himself. What ensued was a great friendship with him, his town, the venues in Hot Springs, the musicians and kids that live there, and "Valley of the Vapors," Billy's yearly music festival. Now, I have been a fan of the Blue Meanies for years. I never saw them play.
To get an idea of what they sound like, pull them up on Spotify or Playlist.com. They will blow your mind. Like really. It's almost hard to know what's going on. This is the band whose lead singer bought a record from my pop-punk band in the middle of nowhere Arkansas. I told him he was the reason I own a bullhorn. (It's true. Blue Meanies used megaphones in their videos and on stage.) In the years that followed our meeting, JVA played Hot Springs many more times. So did Heat Machine and Totally Awesome Fun Band, and a bunch of other bands we were friends with. Hell, we sent them there! We even played Valley Of The Vapors on the way to SXSW. They just seemed to welcome us and our friends back again and again. We camped at Lake Quachita and drank barley wine at the shows. We swam in their lakes and bottled our own spring water for the van ride home. We climbed the hills in the center of the city and partied so hard with the people that came to the shows, it's hard to really remember when it all happened.
This is the story of me, my bands and Hot Springs, Ark. Ironically, there are a lot of places like this — places that are so fun you want to move there. Hot Springs though ... that place is one of a kind. I figured I'd share this long story and the letter that the Blue Meanies sent to MCA, the major label they made it on to.
*Note: Listen to a few track from these guys before you read this ... or don't. Just remember, a band this weird made it to a major, spent their money and then told them to fuck off. Great letter, great read. Big props to Hot Springs, The Blue Meanies, Billy Spunk, the entire state of Arkansas for kicking ass way harder than anywhere else, and Mitch Cady and Matthew Bonecrusher Hovanec for swimming the lake with me.
Dear MCA: You might recall that our band, Blue Meanies, released a record on your label last year. That record is called The Post Wave. We thought that you might like to know that on August 7, 2001, we are going to reissue The Post Wave on our once and future home, Chicago’s THICK Records.
Before The Post Wave came out, we had been a band for almost a decade, and had released six full-length records on indie labels. Our last studio record, Full Throttle, was released on THICK in 1997. For most of the time the Meanies have been a band, our music was loud, fast and discordant – the rumblings of an angry seven-headed monster. A lot of people liked Full Throttle for that reason, and bought it. We liked it too, but we have a short attention span, and by the time we met up with you all at MCA, we knew that we wanted our next record to be very different from Full Throttle.
Then someone at MCA decided to hire Rick Bonde, our booking agent and friend, to be an A & R scout for your label. And Rick asked us if we would like to sign with MCA. Blue Meanies saw the offer as a chance to make a different kind of record than people would expect us to make, and to bring our bizzaro punk sensibility to a corporate label and to a potentially larger audience. We had no idea whether or not it would work, but we were curious. And we wanted to take as much of your money as we could get.
Your only real advice to our band was write the best record you can. So, we did just that, and we lived off of the money you gave us. We spent almost a year doing nothing except writing new songs. You gave us even more money so that we could put together our own project studio in Chicago. And then all seven of us in the band bought all new instruments and amps and drums and so on. That all came in handy!
When we were ready to record an album, we came across this crazy little man who produces records at a place called Studio 4, outside of Philadelphia. His name is Phil Nicolo, and he has worked with artists like John Lennon, Cypress Hill, Cibo Matto and Urge Overkill, to name just a few. You guys wrote Phil a hefty check, and we went to his studio and spent two months recording and mixing the Post Wave.
After we finished the record, you gave us more cash and we bought ourselves a new RV so we could tour in style. The new RV had a double bed, a refrigerator, stove, oven, two TVs, and a toilet. That was pretty sweet, considering our previous vehicle leaked water in the rain, let cold air in during the winter, had no A/C, and broke alternator belts every other day on tour.
But just a few weeks before MCA released the Post Wave, Rick Bonde and the president of your label had a falling out, and Rick decided he didn’t want to work for MCA any longer. Rick had been the only real reason that a bunch of punks like us felt comfortable putting music out on your label. We knew that without Rick in our corner, we would become a tax write-off for your company. You proved us right when you assigned us a product manager to be our liason to the company.
After Rick left MCA it became apparent that you had no clue what to do with us, and preferred to ignore us until we went away. Blue Meanies decided that we would go away, but we wanted you to give us back our master tapes, the artwork, and especially all of the CDs that you had pressed.
We figure that from the time we signed our contract until we squeezed the last tour support check out of you, MCA spent about $500,000 for Blue Meanies to make the Post Wave. In other words, we stole a lot of money from you! It’s as if we walked into the jaws of the dragon’s lair, extracted its golden tooth, and walked away unscathed. Now we are right where we were two years ago, only we have a record that we produced free of charge, a video, a home studio, a few new computers, a pimpin ride, fancy new equipment, plus various assorted toys.
Anyway, we just thought we ought to say thanks for giving us a half million dollars that we don’t have to pay back. That’s a nice feeling, as you can imagine. Suckers.