The Cübists recordings were born of hangovers and frustration, a collection of two minute antidotes for a ragged quartet involved in several bands that took themselves way too seriously. The location was behind the Dharma sandwich shop, at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.
Sarkus Tarzian, Lead Vocalist and Malletman, landed in San Francisco in 1973, eager to play the songs that he grew up listening to in his native Estonia (Sarkus even learned English by listening to various 60's pop hits broadcast late at night by the Voice of America). Sadly, there wasn't much call for an eastern European Xylophone player in the nascent punk scene of San Francisco, so Sarkus turned to drink, a problem that would dog him throughout his brief life. His drinking led to a chance encounter with Vudi, the leader of a struggling Country/Jazz/Punk band called Farmers. Vudi was becoming increasingly frustrated with the fusion-like complexity of some of the newer Farmers tunes. Mikey was the Sax player with the Farmers, and often had to sit around while the Farmers' self-indulgent keyboard player endlessly noodled. Downstairs from the Farmers' rehearsal studio was a smaller studio inhabited by a power-pop band called the Ironics. Sluggo, the Ironic's drummer, enjoyed the pop, but felt the band was taking itself too seriously.
At this point, the various Cübists members were all but living in the studio and most were drinking heavily. When not gigging at such local clubs as The Fab Mab, The On Broadway and, of course, The Sound of Music, the four would wail away on their own into the wee small hours, playing and drinking until they passed out. Sunday mornings/afternnoons became a time of sitting around and shooting the bull. One fateful Sunday, Sarkus suggested they just play some pop songs and record them. So they did.
The original manifesto was pretty simple. Songs were arranged and recorded very quickly, sometimes overtracking the parts and sometimes playing live. The songs were kept short, and bridges were hacked off, leaving what Sarkus felt were the essential kernels of pop truth. Bridges? We don need no steekin' Bridges
The lyrics were another story. Sarkus never did understand English very well, and would either mis-hear lyrics (mondegreens) or forget them and substitute something that would work just as well. This became a trademark of sorts for the quartet, as Vudi, Sluggo and Mikey got into the Sarkus vocal groove.
The songs on this collection span a few short years, and cover the high points of the Cübists' career. Their first EP: Greet the Cübists, was in fact, greeted with yawns by critics and radio programmers alike. Many found the heavy use of the Kan (from Vudi's trip to Indonesia) a little too much. The theme from "A Man And A Woman" uses this instrument to good effect, mimicking car horns (after all, the Movie's hero was a race car driver).
Fine tuning their noise into a trademark sound through overtracking (more for separation than layering), the drunk four created their pop masterpiece: Cübists si!, featuring a fractured take on a car commercial of the day ("Oh What A Feeling"), A Lost in the Valley/Low Riding/Marching band (those damn bells!) version of "Do You Know The Way To San Jose" and the infectious bounce of an old Association chestnut: "Cherish".
Depending on who you talk to, Cübists Love In was either a period of self-discovery (Sarkus) or a self-indulgent pot and acid waste of time (Vudi). Included on this compilation are Donovan's Atlantis (sinking fast) and a disturbingly voyeuristic take on the Okaysions' "I'm A Girl Watcher".
Trying to shake the label of a studio band, the boys played and recorded a live album, Live Indifference. Sadly, the critical and commercial response to this disc is best summed up by the title. Nevertheless, this collection includes sprightly versions of The Hollies' Bus Stop, Peter, Paul and Mary's I Dig Rock and Roll Music, the old Country tune "Wolverton Mountain" (with a distinct Ganja vibe, like this mountain was in Jamaica?) and a very disturbing version of Bobby Lind's: "Bright Elusive Butterfly of Love".
The Cübists Go Hollywood is largely forgettable, though Goldfinger has a bit of the old spark and "To Sir With Love" sounds like the b-side to Cherish. Listen closely, not only are there synth drums but an actual Moog synthesizer (Sarkus even sings the first verse through the Moog's filter). This song also heralded the arrival of the good Dr. Rhythm. The Cübists were going uptown.
Karl Jönes, either the Cübists' manager or Sarkus' Psycho buddy, somehow convinced the group to record a Christmas album, and the less said about it, the better. "Do you see what I see?" will give the listener some idea of what the lads were trying to do, but the record really wound up as a mish-mash of xylophone, funk and Orson Bean references.
Finally, there was the album: Stealing Legacies. Sarkus was getting bored with Mallets and becoming fascinated with the Moog. Even if you had never heard the Cübists before, you could tell that this was the end. The power-pop treatment of "I Am The Walrus" takes itself way too seriously, though "I Feel Good", probably performed with a massive hangover, retains a bit of the Cübists goofy, off-centered pop sense of fun.
Sarkus passed away shortly after these recordings were made. His friend and sometimes manager, Karl Jönes says that Sarkus simply drank himself to death. Vudi went on to pop stardom in The American Music Club before disappearing into Los Angeles. Sluggo moved north and was last seen managing the North Coast's largest Carrot Farm. Mikey repairs fancy German machines.
The original recordings were recorded over a tagalog speech, that's the high-pitched voice that you hear at the end of one of the songs. This became a bit of a trademark, and Sarkus insisted that all their recordings have snippets of double speed Filipinos (though it has been suggested that the four were simply too broke to buy tape, or would have used whatever money they had to buy endless six packs of Coors, and simply happened upon a stash of tape used to record a series of lectures in tagalog). It proved impossible to track down the masters, so this CD was created off of a 2nd generation cassette tape. As such, the fidelity leaves much to be desired. B Schindele won the rights to all of the music (as well as the Cübists name) in a card game with Karl Jönes and is responsible for this reissue. He says that voices of Sarkus, Vudi, Sluggo and Mikey should be heard. Mr. Jönes had nothing good to say about Mr. Schindele in a recent phone interview, calling him a grave robber and a cheat. Mr. Schindele declined comment, saying that the music speaks for itself.
So open up a six pack of Coors talls and a bag of Dorritos, sit back and let the boys speak for themselves in this terse, booze filled romp through pop music's garbage can. It is filled with spontaneous moments of genuine humor, bits that are more than a little troubling, and a loopy, off-handed take that is a perfect antidote to today's slick, programmed dreck.
Dayle Carnegie Hall
SF, Winter 2001
Greet the Cübists
1. Andy Williams and Spider Sabich (A.C. Jobim)
2. Francis Lai In Traffic (F. Lai)
3. Toyota Jingle (composer unknown)
4. Cherish (is the word) (T. Kirkman)
5. Do You Know The Way To San Jose? (B. Bacharach & H.David)
Cübists Love In
6. Atlantis (D. Leech)
7. I'm A Girl Watcher (B. Trail & W. Pittman)
Live Indifference! (the Cübists Live at Dharma)
8. I Dig Rock And Roll Music (P. Stookey, Mason, Dixon)
9. Bus Stop (G. Gouldman)
10. Wolverton Mountain (M. Kilgore & C. King)
11. Bright, Elusive, Butterfly Of Love (B. Lind)
Cübists Go Hollywood
12. Goldfinger (J. Barry, L. Bricusse & A. Newley)
13. To Sir, With Love (M. London & D. Black)
14. Do Ya See What I See? (Trad.)
15. I Am The Walrus (Lennon & McCartney)
16. I Feel Good! (Brown)
Sarkus Tarzian: Lead Vocals (except ) Kan, Mallets, Moog
Vudi: Vocals, Kan, Guitars, Bass
Sluggo: Vocals, Suitcases, Syn Drum, Percussion
Mikey: Vocals, Sax, Bass