This once-impossible-to-find 45 is now relatively common thanks to a quantity find circa 2008.
The first time it happened was with Chronic Sick's Cutest Band In Hardcore
LP at Venus Records in NYC. My friend Gil spotted the LP and asked me
if I wanted it. At the time, I was trying to limit myself to collecting California
and Texas punk records only (which, it turns out, could be a lifetime's work). In spite
of perhaps one of the greatest band photos of all time on the cover, I decided to
pass. I lent Gil the $6 to buy the record. We got home, dropped the needle, and
REGRET immediately set in: the Cutest Band In Hardcore LP
was a ripper, and I offered it to buy it then and there.
My friend's response was, of course, "not a chance". Years later, Gil auctioned
off the LP, and I wound up having to pay a rather hefty $84 penalty on top of the
original purchase price thanks to a yo-yo bidder who insisted on bidding against
himself in a traditional phone-in auction. My missteps with Chronic Sick
would be repeated with Helen Keller in an only slightly more forgiveable fashion.
I'd heard a tape of Helen Keller long before most of the collector cognescenti (thanks,
Steve) but had given the tracks only a cursory listen before fast-forwarding
to the main focus of my interest,
Jackie Shark & The Beach Butchers.
I'd been granted a huge head start, and I blew it. A decade after the Chronic
Sick incident, I sat idly by while a friend traded away a copy from the affable
and amazing collector-to-end-all-collectors Geoffrey Weiss. When we got back to
my friend's place, I asked him to throw (er, gently set) the Helen Keller 45 on
the turntable. A few seconds... hmmm, better than I remembered. A couple minutes...
damn, not bad. B-side... goddamnit, I've got to get a copy of this record. My original
mental filing under "non-essential novelty" (like, say, the Luchs Brothers) was
way off. Both "Dump On The Chumps" and "Surfin' With Steve & ED Amin" were infectious,
unique, and truly twisted in that "Killed By Death" way.
So, who were Helen Keller? The "band" was the demented brainchild of a man who mainly
produced commercial jingles for a living, Norman Durkee. Some of Seattle's persistent
rain had obviously soaked through his skull and settled on his brain, and a "speed
punk" concept developed. Friends and acquaintances from the "studio scene" were
brought in to play. Unlike your average amateur punk band, these guys knew their
chops, and Norman knew exactly how everything should be sliced and diced. A couple
practices and a recording session were the extent of Helen Keller's tenure. The
band never played a gig, though members carry on doing music to this day.
About the songs... B-side first. To the seasoned 70's punk obscurity monger, Helen
Keller's "Dump On The Chumps" will bring to mind the Child Molesters (especially
their second release with "Wholesale Murder" and "I'm Gonna Punch You In The Face").
Both bands are admitted Captain Beefheart devotees and certainly pay homage to the Captain's vocal style.
If only Helen Keller would've had some of the Child
Molesters' knack for great picture sleeves, more collectors might've taken notice
earlier on. Even the printed paper sleeve was rather unambitious when compared to
similar efforts by the Hollywood Squares or The Onlys. It's a shame the crew at
Jackass didn't pick
up on "Dump Of The Chumps" sooner... I can think of several appropriate episodes,
but alas I digress.
The B-side is great, but it's the A-side that I just can't shake from my brain
even days after listening. Lyrically, "Surfin' With Steve & ED Amin" was simply a
goof on the oh-so-cutesy couple Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme and the oh-so-scary
dictator Idi Amin. On the Helen
Keller record, all three are merged into a bizarre mish-mash of driving punk rock
that, aside from the basics, includes a drill and an operatic soprano wailing away
like a Theremin for the chorus. I swear to god it's GENIUS.
And I'm both sad and elated to report that someone somewhere in the corporate world
of Isuzu agreed. Norman received a five-figure paycheck for the use of "Surfin'
With Steve & E.D. Amin" in a car commercial! And you thought the Stooges in a Nike commercial was bizarre. When I hear Freestone's "Bummer Bitch" in an Oxy commercial,
I'll know the end of the world is near.
Q: Why did it take so long for a Helen Keller reissue to appear? A: Because she burned her fingers reading the waffle iron.
But seriously, Deaf Ear finally
stepped up to the plate in 2003 with a double 45 reissue which also included unreleased tracks: