Monday, November 14, 2016


The Ordinaires - One (April 26, 1989)

The Ordinaires were a nine-piece art-rock ensemble who came out of New York City's post-punk/No Wave scene of the Eighties, a band whose avant-garde eclecticism drew comparisons to everything from Henry Mancini, Captain Beefheart, Philip Glass, and Stravinsky.  In truth, though, the music of the Ordinaires was simply unclassifiable, which is perhaps why the band found a much more receptive audience in Europe than in the U.S.  Bar/None released One in 1989 in an effort to find the Ordinaires wider stateside distribution and appreciation.  Co-produced by Martin Bisi (Material, Sonic Youth, Live Skull), Bill Krauss (They Might Be Giants) and The Ordinaires, One's cover art featured an eerie computer-generated composite photograph of all nine members of the band. The Ordinaires disbanded in 1991.

Largely ignored for more than a decade, the Ordinaires became the obsession of radio producer, field recordist, and songwriter Myke Dodge Weiskopf, who has produced a fascinating audio documentary about the band.  "Nine Views Of The Ordinaires" can be enjoyed below.  Myke Dodge Weiskopf then explains what inspired the documentary and some of the challenges in completing it.

Myke Dodge Weiskopf:  Any music documentary worth its salt has to start with the music. I came of age listening to the Ordinaires' albums in the Midwest in the pre-Internet era, so their music always seemed like a gloriously strange anomaly. Even now, with the ability to dive deeply into any genre of music from every time and place, their music still sounds utterly unique. And from a storytelling perspective, the backstory of the Ordinaires seemed like a no-brainer: a nine-piece orchestral rock band coming out of this crazy downtown New York art/performance scene and trying to make the big time. So the documentary served two purposes: to expose more people to this unjustly obscure, yet brilliant and idiosyncratic band, and to explore the individual and group dynamics that went into keeping a project like that afloat. Fortunately, all I had to do was scratch the surface and the stories came pouring out. It was a dream come true in every way
What I find fascinating about the Ordinaires is that their trajectory seems to mirror that of the Lower East Side scene more broadly. They started off as a modest but idiosyncratic home recording project - with echoes of Arthur Russell, to my ears - and then adopted this very brittle, post-punk/No Wave sound, which was very much the archetypal sound of that scene in 1980-1982. But as the Lower East Side scene swelled, with folks like They Might Be Giants and Ann Magnuson and Steve Buscemi and Eric Bogosian breaking out into the larger world, the Ordinaires' sound blossomed magnificently into this new kind of organism that featured very lush and ambitious arrangements, but still welded to that rock'n'roll core. And I think by that point - say, 1986 and onwards - the Ordinaires were entirely their own thing. As Elliott Sharp says in the piece, they represented the maturing of that scene into a beautiful and expressive new art form. Then, as the LES scene fractured and imploded due to gentrification and other social factors by the end of the '80s, the band was also splitting at the seams. So in a way, the Ordinaires are a perfect allegory for the scene from which they came. It was a glorious moment in time, perhaps one of the most riotously creative in NYC's musical history, but it was never built to last. And that is both the poignancy and the perfection of the Ordinaires' story.

The Ordinaires and their extended circle were almost universally enthusiastic and helpful in putting the piece together. They were generous not just with their time, but also with their material keepsakes: gig posters, cassettes and DATs of archival material, VHS tapes of TV appearances and videos, you name it. And they each gave such great interviews: reflective and honest and funny and clear-eyed about the history and legacy of this most improbable band.
The hardest thing, really, was just putting it all together afterwards. I conducted 15 interviews in five days and received hours and hours of archival audio. It was just an overwhelming amount of material. It took me a long time to sit with it and let it marinate and allow the structure and the key elements to rise to the surface. And there were other personal mitigating factors that kept me from getting it done ... but here we are.
And yes, there are still a few members of the inner circle that I'd like to incorporate into a revised version of the piece, and I'm hoping those folks will come through once they've had a chance to listen to it. I think it's only natural that some folks aren't as interested in looking back, but it would be a shame to miss those voices in the freewheeling cacophony that defined the Ordinaires. The piece will go on either way!

The Ordinaires on iTunes



"The Dance Of The Coco Crispies"

Ordinaires - Kashmir from Ernie Fritz on Vimeo.

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