Sunday, March 29, 2015

Water Towers Look Like Martians

On March 31, I'm releasing the first of four ultra-lowbrow RV&OI mini-novels projected for this year, entitled Water Towers Look Like Martians. But before that, I suppose I ought to explain to the uninitiated who the heck RV&OI are.

Like many of the people whose move in my blurry circles, RV&OI are "secretly famous", toiling in obscurity. They're two manchildren from Richmond, KY whose street-busking antics are notorious nationwide, but especially in Lexington, which seems to have been their epicenter of operations in the 1990s. To explain the RV&OI story is a multi-tentacled task that many chroniclers have tried their hand at and failed, so I won't even try, I'll just give you the gist in bold strokes:

RV&OI is actually short for Retrovirus & Opportunistic Infection, as the guy with the hat is nicknamed "Retrovirus" and the guy with the glasses calls himself "Opportunistic Infection." They have produced tens of thousands of cassette-only albums since the 1970s, almost all given away, left at bus stops, planted in public restrooms, and even tossed in the open windows of parked cars. Dissemination at all costs, profits be damned.

Very few copies exist of each album, though the material often overlaps, and numerous different re-recordings of their many recurring "standards" exist. All are recorded with the most primitive equipment ("a cheap walkman with a microphone the size of children's aspirin", according to one tape's liner notes) and instruments. Out-of-tune unplugged electric guitars are the norm, but banjos, pianos, cardboard boxes, plastic mail crates, and aluminum pots and pans have all made appearances in the mix.

RV&OI's hillbilly-dadaist material is almost always conceived spontaneously. Retrovirus once said in an interview in an early-90's Lexington zine: "We walk around and look at stuff. We spout about whatever pops into our heads at that moment. We record it all. We pick out the best ones and put them out. Then we pick out the worst ones and put them out too." Since they've been plying their art for decades, they've managed to capture a lot of local history along the way. Many places immortalized in their songs no longer exist and for some reason, we feel a little bit better knowing that RV&OI stood in these places and jabbered squeaky noises into a boombox there for posterity.

Examples of their oeuvre include "Big Pile of Tires", which is a heartwarming ode to, well, a big pile of tires they found behind a gas station. There's "Mollusk Man", which sounds like a cross between Captain Beefheart and Hasil Adkins, in which only about every tenth word is intelligible. "Dracula Needs A Microscope" is a bizarre acoustic stream-of-consciousness rant which is either a genius comment on bloodborne pathogens or, more likely, is just pure stupid surrealism. "Searching for Pepsi (pt.2)" is an audio-verite recording of the boys making a purchase from a soda machine, complete with the clinking of change and the clunking of cans coming out.

In the 90s, I helped distribute some of their albums on my primitive Creeps Records label, and much later drew semi-fictionalized versions of their exploits for a Louisiana-based comic book company called Moist Doorknob Comics. The mini-comics published by Moist Doorknob have been distributed in the same fashion as the RV&OI tapes - left laying around randomly around the nation in the vain fleeting hope that some bored soul will pick one up, thumb through it, and wonder.

And now, I continue to keep, in my miniscule way, my promise to RV&OI to attempt to help them reach the worldwide fame they deserve but have sorely been screwed out of. (Beavis & Butthead was without a doubt directly influenced by RV&OI, to the point of ripping them off completely.) The RV&OI novellas will, upon full release of the four, be ultimately repackaged in a box set, possibly with a USB stick containing their music.

The books will, in keeping with RV&OI's aesthetic of deliberate shoddiness, be released in print format only (for the time being), each copy individually handmade by me and only obtainable by ordering direct from the JSH Book Club, not Amazon and not any brick and mortar store. (However, in another homage to the boys, I may leave a few at random places around Florida.)

Above: an RV&OI mini-comic found on a condom dispenser in a Shell gas station in Dickson, TN. Below: an RV&OI mini-comic found in the seat pocket of an American Airlines jet.

"Yes, yes," I hear you cry, "but what about this book?" Well, I can't really give you plot details because they're so tender and small and fragile that to speak of them would be to doom them. The RV&OI novels are textural works rather than plot-driven, and the less spoken of them the better. In fact, I'll go ahead and issue a consumer warning that the RV&OI novels are strictly for die-hard JSH Book Club fans only. They're not for the average reader, and future historians may well take aggressive measures to hold them in literary isolation from the rest of my body of work. Get yours now while there's still time!

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