TONIO K.: MINDFOOD
Ladies and gentlemen -- I give you....the greatest album ever recorded!
I can hear you already -- nitpickers, musicologists, the small-minded, owners of Book of Lists toilet paper. What, you cry, of Dennis Brain playing the Mozart horn concertos? What of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, B. B. King's Live at the Regal, Bruno Walter's Mahler Fourth, Sgt. Pepper and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme? Not to mention Nervous Norvus' "Transfusion," John Wayne's "America: Why I Love Her," and the Singing Dogs' "Jingle Bells."
Oh, all right. So I lied. But, honestly, it's the kind of lie that Life in the Foodchain inspires even in as responsible a critic as me. Its creator, Tonio K., is easily twice as angry as Elvis Costello and about six times funnier, and though he spent this decade's middle years in a Southern California booby hatch, rest assured that his songs sound nothing like James Taylor's. What they sound like, actually, is Loudon Wainwright if he'd O.D.'d on the absurdity of American life and then been drafted as the lead singer for Led Zeppelin. Beyond that, it's hard to describe the songs because to do so, or to quote the lyrics, would be like giving away the one-liners in a Woody Allen film.
Let me simply say, then, that Tonio K. thinks that humor is a serious business and that the next big dance craze will be "The Funky Western Civilization." Let me also say that he is the only rocker in memory whose album contains a cameo vocal appearance by Joan of Arc, that his music is bone-crushing rock-and-roll as manic as any punk band's but infinitely more sophisticated, and that his lyrics are so absurdly literate and corrosively cynical that they have reduced me to rolling on the floor from the mere reading of them. To hear them declaimed by Tonio in his marvelously twisted voice while the band conducts an aural demolition derby behind him is the most exciting experience I expect to have in my living room for the remainder of this year.
The bottom line? Tonio K., if not the future, is certainly at least the George Metesky of rock-and-roll. As a matter of fact, I think I'll have to take back my earlier disclaimer: this IS the greatest album ever recorded. -- Steve Simels
Okay, for starters, I should add that three months after the review appeared, we ran the following Letter to the Editor from the man himself.
Has Simels gone mad? "Life in the Foodchain." while certainly a good, great, maybe even swell album, can't possibly be the greatest album ever recorded. James Brown Live at the Apollo is. This can be substantiated with actual documentation. so don't argue with me. And what about the Seeds' first album? And is the cat still in the freezer?
Tonio K., Calabasas, Calif.
I should also add that while, as you may know, I am not cool enough to have my own Wikpedia entry, I am referenced at Tonio's, specifically in regard to his second record.
K.’s follow-up album, Amerika (Cars, Guitars and Teenage Violence), was released in 1980 by Full Moon (this time via Clive Davis’s Arista Records). Filled with literary and political references, the album was hailed as “Punk for academics” and once again pronounced by Simels to be “the greatest record ever recorded” (as was every ensuing Tonio K. disc) [emphasis mine].
And I'd obviously be remiss if I didn't post an audio clip, so here -- courtesy of an mp3 graciously supplied by Tonio himself -- is my personal favorite song from Foodchain, the immortal "H-A-T-R-E-D." In case you're wondering, among the sounds you'll hear at the song's conclusion are an AK-47 firing live ammunition into an accordion played by Garth Hudson of the The Band. To our knowledge, this marks the first occasion such a feat was ever attempted on a pop or rock record.
Two remaining notes: Over the last few months since I've been posting audio, I've not really worried about copyright questions and pesky little moral issues like that. This time, since I actually sort of know Tonio, I'm feeling a little queasy about putting that clip up for free, so let me try to assuage my guilt by giving you the Amazon link to go buy Foodchain, which obviously no home should be without.
You can find it over HERE, and, equally obviously, unless you're a complete schween you will order it immediately.
I'd also like to add that last year Tonio put together one of the coolest single CD blues samplers ever. I wrote about it in these precincts back in September; you can read the piece HERE, as well as find another Amazon link to the CD. Plus: there's a YouTube clip of the aforementioned "Funky Western Civilization," my second favorite track from Foodchain.