Happy 25th birthday to Galaxie 500’s ‘On Fire’ – come ride the fiery breeze

Galaxie 500 – On FIre, available on LP CD MC

Today[1] is the 25th anniversary of the release of Galaxie 500’s masterpiece 2nd album On Fire.

THEN there was The Great Chicago Fire. I was there. The stories of how the fire began were wildly contradictory, but I was there. Some people say the fire was started by a stampede of cows. Some say it was just one cow. Some tried to blame it all on someone they didn’t like. One fella tried to blame it all on his own brother, just because his brother had stolen away his girlfriend and married her. The wedding took place in Las Vegas. It was a modest affair of about 150 guests, non-denominational (which really pissed off the parents of the bride, but hell, you can’t please everybody). During the ceremony, some rotten little punks yelled “Fire! Fire!” and the whole place cleared out in no time. The maid of honor even broke her ankle in two places after being shoved down the altar by the always overly zealous justice of the peace. Well, the ankle was pretty back and the maid of honor had to be shot, and exactly one week later the entire block burned to the ground. Even the bricks burned.

But at least nobody tried to blame it on a cow. And the wedding went ahead as planned.

And some people actually believe that Nero fiddled as Rome burned, and that he really did look like a badly aging Peter Lorre. On Sunday nights we’d all gather ’round the television set to watch the Disney show, and I would always fall asleep from boredom. But I had a big old Siamese cat named Butch who’d always loved to play with my face moments after my head hit the pillow. So I’d awake startled, sometimes, crying, sometimes covered with blood and crying, staring into the idiot box. Sometimes I’d see Walt himself, sometimes Mickey or Goofy. But sometime I’d see a thousand bright blue caribou racing a dust storm to the finish line, neck and neck all the way like nature’s own Indy 500! Flesh and blood against the elements! And I remember wondering to myself, “Why are they racing?” THEN one fine day I understood why the race took place. It was because the hairs on those caribou necks were being tickled by the instinctual knowledge of a fire raging not too far away, and most certainly headed this way. Humans often get the same feeling…like an oddly warm breeze malevolently fueled by the maddening flames behind it. Come ride the fiery breeze of GALAXIE 500!
-Kramer, NYC, July 1989

Galaxie 500 - On Fire

If a Pyrrhic victory means triumph won at such cost you may as well have lost, then Galaxie 500’s music is the exact opposite: a statement of defeat that resounds like a glorious triumph
-Simon Reynolds – Melody Maker 28th October 1989

Here are some quotes lifted from the thoroughly brilliant “Temperature’s Rising: Galaxie 500 an oral and visual history” by Mike McGonigal…

We made that record so easily! I’m not even sure there were any second takes. It’s one of the easiest records I ever made.
-Kramer

Making On Fire was a very happy experience. I think we were at a point where we were accomplished enough musicians that we were able to play what we had in our head. There was a generally optimistic feeling about the direction of the band and we were getting attention from the critics. It was a lot of fun and the possibilities seemed endless, something that I feel I was very lucky to experience. A very joyful, youthful moment.
-Naomi Yang

On Fire - Galaxie 500 cassette

On Fire inhabits an awesome, distorted reality. The band, ostensibly a trio of guitar, bass and drums, sound more like a sun carriage. Damon Krukowski’s cymbals and Dean Wareham’s falsetto become lead instruments. Naomi Yang doesn’t so much play as paint with her bass. These abstract tones and spots of primary colour are the sound of three people locked somewhere in a beautiful space, the midpoint between telepathy and propulsion. From the languorous opening bars of ‘Blue Thunder’ to the euphoric closing refrain of “What a pity, what a pity” the record moves back and forward allowing waves of electricity to swell and break across its ten tracks. Few songs have been more appropriately titled than ‘Snowstorm’ and few bands have been in such graceful control of a maelstrom. Has anyone played a wah-wah with such equine grace as Dean Wareham? Each note in the solo crystallizing the reverie of a snowflake hitting the ground.
-Richard King – sleeve notes to the 2010 Domino reissue

Snowstorm lyrics
Snowstorm lyrics
Why today?
I haven’t figured out exactly when Galaxie 500’s On Fire was released but I think 23rd of October is the most likely date – I came up with it becuase…

  • Simon Reynolds review of the album was in the 28th October edition of Melody Maker
  • MM always came out the Wednesday before the date on the cover which would have been 25th October
  • Records in the UK were released on the Monday and you’d want the record to be in the shops when folk opened their MM on Wednesday – so On Fire must have been released on the 23rd October

A US press release dating from August 1989 when Galaxie 500 signed to Rough Trade, suggests the album would be released on 20th October, but as that’s a Friday I’ll dismiss it.

Records in the US are apparently released on a Tuesday – so US release date was possibly the 24th October… so we can party tomorrow as well!

Feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong.

Originals: Well…. All Right by Buddy Holly and The Crickets (covered by Galaxie 500)

Well…. All Right was released by Buddy Holly as the b-side to his 1958 single Heartbeat. And it does have a four dot ellipsis, which I guess technically means that the title has an ellipsis and a full stop as there’s really no such thing as a four dot ellipsis (personally I’m disinclined to use a four dots even at the end of a sentence!

The Galaxie 500 cover turned up on a few of Galaxie 500’s first demo tapes, I’ve blogged about that before, so here you just get to listen to it!

MP3: Galaxie 500 – Well…. All Right

Obviously if I knew my alphabet this would have appeared last week!

Originals: Victory Garden by Red Krayola (covered by Galaxie 500)

Victory Gardens!
Just a quickie to-day as I’ve posted a couple of times about Victory Garden before:
Mp3: Victory Garden – Enough or Adolf
Friday recycling: Victory Garden
Originally by Red Krayola on their second LP “God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It” in 1968

Galaxie 500 released it on the b-side of their Blue Thunder single, and it has more recently been on the CD reissues of On Fire.

MP3: Galaxie 500 – Victory Garden (live in The Netherlands, 1989)

Originals: Submission by The Sex Pistols (covered by Galaxie 500)

Rowing Boat and Sub
On a submarine mission

Submission was recorded by The Sex Pistols in 1976 and appeared on (most copies of) their only studio album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols’)

Galaxie 500 covered the track for their second session for BBC Radio One’s John Peel show in October 1990.

The Sex Pistols were a 1970s British novelty act – here they are playing it live in 2007 to a large room full of middle aged men:

See all posts in the Originals series

On this day in 1987… Galaxie 500 were born*

It was after college, when I was in my first year of architecture school, and miserable, that Damon and Dean started talking about reforming a band. I thought that sounded like fun and volunteered to play bass
Naomi Yang – Temperature’s Rising: Galaxie 500 an oral and visual history (p16)

Galaxie 500 was born the day that Naomi volunteered to play the bass guitar
[…]
You can spend your time placing ads in the Village Voice and sifting through messages on your answering machine by idiot musicians […] but the best thing is to start a band with your friends. Your friends are tasteful and smart and like the same things you do. Who cares if one of you doesn’t play an instrument? She can learn.
[…]
We had our first rehearsal on May 27, 1987
Dean Wareham – Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance (p33)

MP3: Pride – Galaxie 500 (1987 – extended demo cassette)

* OK, there’s a receipt for Naomi’s bass guitar in Temperature’s Rising that’s dated 2nd May 1987 which suggests I may have to revise Galaxie 500’s birthday… AGAIN!