I began applying to graduate school while I was living over in New Zealand - spending practically every night after work for more than a year investigating programs, writing essays, and gathering information and recommendations. It was a long, grueling and nerve-wracking process, made even more difficult by the distance I was away from the places I was applying to and the technology of the time (keep in mind that I was doing all of this at the very dawn of the Internet/email age, so most of my work was being done at the library and my applications and appeals were being forwarded via regular (i.e. 'snail') mail). I looked into a number of university MBA curricula, with the goal being to get into one of what were considered the "best". I wasn't necessarily concerned with the university's location or ambiance, or whether it was the right 'fit' esthetically for me - I just wanted to get into what was considered a "top-ten" school (as per the annual U.S. News magazine rankings). Under that methodology and consideration, the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, a perennial Top Five pick, was the place I had my heart set on.
I forwarded all of my applications in late 1994/early 1995, and that spring I received news that I had been accepted to four schools, the University of Rochester (William E. Simon), the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler), the University of California at Berkeley (Haas) . . . and Darden. I'll admit that the first two schools were essentially 'safety' picks - I had no intention of spending two years freezing my ass off in northern New York, and I'd visited UNC before and wasn't all that impressed. Although I'd been to the San Francisco area many times before, and used to live in nearby Monterey, I'd never actually been to the Berkeley campus. However, the thought of attending school in California was very intriguing . . . but in the end, I went with my head and did what I thought was right, and accepted the Darden offer. I flew back to the States that June, and started classes in Charlottesville that fall.
During my first month in grad school, the local PBS station in Charlottesville began airing the first in a ten-part documentary series, The History of Rock & Roll, an international effort jointly produced by the influential public television station WGBH in Boston and the BBC. The concept behind the miniseries was unique; instead of focusing on the big names, monster bands and landmark events in rock history, the programs would focus instead on the creators, innovators and visionaries - the sources and influences that made popular music what is today. For example, the first episode, "Renegades", dealt with the growing popularity in the late '40s and early '50s of R&B and blues music, "race" music previously relegated to black radio. The show featured interviews with former WLAC Nashville radio hosts from that era (whose late-night R&B shows were heard across the country thanks to the station's broadcasting power), and the owners of Chicago's Chess Records, ostensibly a jazz/blues label that nonetheless released several important records early in rock history. A later episode, "Blues In Technicolor", covered the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene from its origins right through to Altamont, with Ken Kesey, Ravi Shankar and Country Joe McDonald providing interesting commentary on the music and times. Every one of the shows was excellent. I didn't miss an episode that fall, and recorded every single one of them on my VCR for later viewing.
My favorite of all the Rock & Roll episodes was the second-to-last one, simply titled "Punk". In a tightly-constructed hour, the show went through some of the origins of punk, from Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers and Lenny Kaye's Nuggets '60s garage-rock compilations, through the New York art scene and the dawn of CBGB's and into the British punk explosion and the influence of Jamaican music on the movement. The portion of the show regarding reggae and how it affected the music of The Clash and other English bands included a brief clip of a music video for "Typical Girls" by The Slits and an interview with the band's frontwoman Ari Up:
Although I had heard of The Slits long before I saw this show, I didn't own any of their music or really know that much about them. So I went running to my old reliable resource, the Trouser Press Record Guide, to glean whatever information I could about them (in addition, I ran out the very next day and bought Cut). What I found was interesting: The Slits were considered to be one of a celebrated triumvirate of great, groundbreaking female-led bands that emerged in the early years of punk. I'd also heard of the second band mentioned in the book article, The Raincoats (after quitting The Slits in 1979, drummer Paloma Romero, aka Palmolive, joined The Raincoats). But the third band, Liliput (or as they preferred it, LiLiPUT) was completely unknown to me, and I dug deeper to find out more about this group.
LiLiPUT had its origins in the late '70s Swiss punk scene (yes, there was a punk movement in that country, just like in several other places across the globe - you don't seriously think that punk's rise and fall took place only in Britain and America, do you?). Two Zurich musicians, bassist Klaudia Schiff and drummer Lislor Ha, formed a nameless band with two male friends in early 1978, and with the most rudimentary of skills and less than a half-dozen songs, played their first gig at a local club. In the audience of that first show was postal worker Marlene Marder. As soon as the set ended, the men quit the band; but just as quickly, a mesmerized Marder stepped in as lead guitarist.
The trio recruited a lead singer, Ramona Carlier, aka Regula Sing, and by the summer the group released an EP on Swiss label Sunrise Records, calling themselves "Kleenex". Although only a limited number of discs (about 500) were pressed, one of them made it into the hands of influential UK DJ John Peel, who played it on his BBC show. Another reached the editors of Sounds magazine,
who made it their "Single of the Week". All of this recognition fueled British demand for the record; reportedly, the lion's share of this first pressing was smuggled into England by the sleeve designer, who sold the discs across the country at premium prices. It also brought Kleenex to the attention of Rough Trade Records, who quickly signed them and released their first domestic single, "Ain't You" b/w "Hedi's Head" that November.
It was after the release of their second Rough Trade single in 1979, "Ü" b/w "You", that the band found itself in a little legal hot water. The Kimberly-Clark consumer products corporation, makers of Kleenex tissues, threatened legal action against the group and label over the unauthorized use of their trademarked product name. Kleenex quickly changed its name to LiLiPUT, and continued its release of Rough Trade singles under their new moniker - "Split" b/w "Die Matrosen" in 1980, and "Eisiger Wind" in 1981. Throughout this period, the band went through numerous personnel changes (mainly drummers and vocalists), with Schiff and Marder being the only constant members. Despite this, both singles were hits in the UK.
LiLiPUT released two albums on Rough Trade, a self-titled release in 1982 and Some Songs, released in December 1983, shortly after the group decided to break up. LiLiPUT never toured America, and for that matter didn't do much touring in Europe either. While they existed, they seemed perfectly content to remain close to home in Switzerland, making music as part of several other artistic projects band members were into (Schiff, as Klaudia Schifferle, was and still is a widely-recognized modern art painter; Marder wrote a couple of books). After their disbandment, the band's records quickly achieved legendary (although mostly unheard by the majority of the world) status. During the '80s, there were flashes of acknowledgement and tribute here and there. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon cited LiLiPUT as one of her influences when she arrived in New York in the early '80s. And Book of Love included a cover of "Die Matrosen" on their 1986 debut album. But those nods were few and far between. As that decade wore on, LiLiPUT/Kleenex became little more than a footnote in punk rock history.
All of that changed in 1993, when Zurich-based Off Course Records released a two-disc compilation of the band's entire output. In one stroke, the group's entire back catalogue was made available; a welcome release, but due to Off Course's limited size and distribution, extremely difficult for all but the most dogged and dedicated to get their hands on. Of course, when I read about this hard-to-find disc in the mid-90s, that only whetted my appetite for it. I searched for LiLiPUT through the rest of my time in grad school and for years afterward, without success.
I spent two years at Darden before I graduated with my MBA. In that time, I came to respect the grad school and the university as a whole, but I never learned to like it there. UVA takes great pride in the fact that it is one of the oldest institutes of higher learning in the country, and that was founded by the great Thomas Jefferson. The campus is beautiful, rich in history and full of world-class facilities and amenities. For some reason, I naively thought that the area around the university would reflect that stately, cultured image the university built for itself, and would be akin to Venice during the Renaissance - a progressive, intellectual melting pot. At the very least, I thought that there would be a lot of cool, funky stuff going on close by the school, similar to what I experienced when I lived in Athens, GA, home to the University of Georgia (UGA), a few years earlier. I was looking forward to some cool bars, great music, and interesting activities to try when I wanted to take a break from my academics.
But in my experience, UVA was a far cry from UGA - or even Navy, for that matter. Far from being a center of culture and learning, the city of Charlottesville itself was very much a typical small Southern city, full of (what were in my opinion) hicks and low-brows. I'll never forget my introduction to the locals on my first day in town; I went to a supermarket just outside the college gates to stock the kitchen in my new apartment, and stepped out of my car in the parking lot only to encounter a slovenly, heavy-set woman shrieking at her two brats to "get [their] asses in the car - now!" Yes, I know that can - and does - happen pretty much everywhere, but for it to occur at that place and time was extremely off-putting, and left a deeply negative impression of the city and its people in me.
As for the nightlife there, it left much to be desired. In the mid-90s, Charlottesville was still huffing and puffing with pride over the fact that The Dave Matthews Band, which had just hit it big, had gotten its start there a couple of years earlier (Matthews was a bartender at Miller's, one of the downtown watering holes, before starting out). The unfortunate result of that was that practically every local band playing out in town while I was there tried to sound like Dave Matthews - and I fucking HATE the Dave Matthews Band like I hate the Devil. So you can imagine how all of that went down for me. There were a couple of non-musical bars I went to off and on, and there was at least a decent record store (Plan 9 Records) downtown. But all in all, Charlottesville really didn't do that much for me. Most of my weekends there were spent either studying, or I'd drive 90 minutes up the highway to my folks' place in Northern Virginia and hang out in Washington, DC.
Traditionally, the University of Virginia is where the state's monied elite attend college, and as such there was a strong undercurrent of snobbery and entitlement present at the school. My grad school contained a number of former UVA undergraduates, who all knew the "secret handshake", so to speak, and were loath to allow many others into their tight-knit little klatch. Other exclusive groups quickly formed within Darden, and to be honest being part of something like that really wasn't my bag. I don't know whether it was my Navy experience or something else, but I'm more inclined to judge and befriend individuals on their personal qualities and merits and how they treat me, rather than joining up with a pack. So, instead of being a place where thoughts and ideas were aired and discussed, Darden quickly devolved into a glorified elite prep school; the cliques and castes there were just as rigidly defined and exclusively populated. I was accepted as a student there, but I never really felt accepted for who I was.
The Darden course of study was excellent, and I learned quite a bit while I was there. But I have few fond memories of the place, and almost no nostalgia for the days and months I spent there. A few years back, I was talking with a friend about our separate grad school experiences, and he asked me to sum up my time at UVA. I answered: "The school was great, the professors were excellent, and the academic program was top-notch - the only way Darden could have been better for me was if I was the only student attending." By my count, I've had over 25 permanent addresses in my life, in locations all over the U.S. and some foreign countries. Over the years, I have been back to visit all of my former residences and locations . . . with one exception: in the nearly twenty years since I left Charlottesville, I have never returned. Academically, UVA was just right for me; in every other aspect, it was a bad fit.
After graduating from Darden, I moved to Texas, where I worked for a financial company for several years. I moved to New England in early January 2001 and began working for FleetBoston Financial. The nature of my position had me flying all over the country, working with teams analyzing potential acquisition opportunities. Unfortunately, the first places I was sent to that winter were, basically, places you didn't want to visit during the cold weather months - cities like Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. I was looking forward to going somewhere halfway decent (and moderately warmer), and finally had my chance when I was sent out with the team to the West Coast, to evaluate an opportunity in San Francisco.
There had been buzz building in music magazines for more than a year prior to my San Francisco visit that efforts were being made to finally re-release the long-out-of-print LiLiPUT Off Course compilation. Just before I left on my trip, I heard the news I'd been waiting to hear for years - there was an actual release date, which would coincide with my time in the city. Upon arriving in town, I immediately contacted the Amoeba Music store on Haight Street (the World's Greatest Music Store in my opinion, as I've said before) to ensure that they would be carrying it on the day it came out. They told me that they wouldn't have it, but their sister store in Berkeley would have it available.
Late one afternoon, I took the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train over to Berkeley, to pick up my reserved CD at the Amoeba over there. On my walk from the BART station down Shattuck Avenue and across town to the store on Telegraph Avenue, I took stock of the area. Berkeley seemed like a fairly interesting city, full of coffee shops and bars. It took no time at all to get to Amoeba and purchase the coveted music; it was cool to finally have the album in my hand! The record store was located in close proximity to the UC Berkeley campus - only a block or so away. So I decided before I went back, I would take some time, walk around, and check out the school and area more thoroughly . . .
Hours later, I rode the BART Millbrae line back into San Francisco, slumped into a seat, deeply depressed, with my head pressed against the window for almost the entire journey. Did you ever have one of those moments when you realized, with painful clarity, that you made the wrong decision? That's how I felt after that stroll around the Berkeley campus area. From the moment I stepped onto the grounds, I felt comfortable - no snooty, old-money vibe coming from that school. People were out and about on the grounds, some scurrying to classes or study halls or wherever, others sitting around talking or just mingling. People actually made eye contact and said hello to me as I walked by, which I found astonishing. There was music coming from odd corners of the campus, from windows playing cool tunes (apparently, it helped to have Amoeba so close!) or from someone just strumming a guitar in the grass.
The one thing I didn't see in anyone's face was tension, a feeling I had almost every day at Darden. Everything and everyone was just mellow - and not in a hippie-dippy sort of way, either. I've mentioned before in an earlier post that one of the things I've always liked and appreciated about the San Francisco area was how non-judgmental people were; as long as what you were into wasn't a nuisance or bothering anyone, folks were pretty much cool with it. The feeling I got from Berkeley was that that same sort of attitude prevailed. The streets around the school were full of brightly colored buildings and funky, eclectic shops and restaurants that I would have loved to have frequented if I lived there. The more I looked around that afternoon, the more I was convinced that UC Berkeley would have been the right place, and right choice, for me. That school and that area would have been the PERFECT fit for me, in every way.
I was still bummed by the time I got back to my hotel room in the city, so I opened up the CD set and began listening to tracks off the compilation, hoping that would cheer me up somewhat. And I must say that I was pleasantly and happily surprised at what I heard. Instead of the grinding, abrasive punk practiced by the majority of their contemporaries, LiLiPUT took a different tack; their music didn't neatly fit into the one-word categories of 'feminists' or 'punks' or 'artistes'. To quote writer John Dougan:
"Their music was not punk in the loud, fast economical sense; the band was forging a different kind of punk, one that was gleefully anarchic, avant-garde, unrestrained and suffused with a giddy, almost palpable sense of joy."It's the sound of a group of musicians having a blast playing music together, and not really giving much thought to whether their songs would be popular or 'mainstream' enough. They weren't necessarily thinking about critical success or commercial gain - the members of LiLiPUT were making music essentially for their own enjoyment, and in spite of (or more likely, because of) their unabashed exuberance and ignorance of the unwritten rules of their particular genre, they gained a small but widespread and appreciative audience. They didn't conform, and do what they were 'supposed' to do or what others told them they could or couldn't do - they just did what felt right and good and fun to them. They listened to their hearts, rather than their heads . . . a lesson I wish I had followed years earlier, when I made that choice between grad schools, and ended up in a place that wasn't quite right for me.
What happened for me happened; the past is the past, and you live with your choices. But I found that sometimes it really IS better to stuff logic and pragmatism, and go with what you feel rather than what you think.
And so much for all of that. Here, for your listening pleasure, is LiLiPUT, the two-disc compilation containing the band's complete output - five singles, two albums and fourteen unreleased tracks - originally released on Switzerland's Off Course Records in 1993, and re-released on Kill Rock Stars on February 20th, 2001. Enjoy and, as always, please let me know what you think.
Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link ASAP: