Last summer (2008) I had the pleasure of working at Light Industry, an alternative film/video/performance space in Sunset Park, Brooklyn that has since gotten quite a bit of positive press. One of the first shows I attended was Peggy Ahwesh's curated program Tuning a Deaf Ear, a selection of vintage films out of '70s/'80s Pittsburgh. We saw such oddities as filmed meetings of the Pittsburgh 16mm club, Nosferatu performed in sign language by deaf children in silent super-8, and some George Romero docu about a sunburned wrestler played through two projectors simultaneously. Some films were "better" than others, but quality wasn't really the point. It was a collection of rarities, a window into the dingy world of Pittsburgh 25 years ago and the way certain inhabitants mediated their relationship to a culturally underwhelming locale. But by far the most fascinating was the 40-minute Debt Begins at 20 (Stephanie Beroes, 1980), a quasi-fictional documentary about Pittsburgh's lively post-punk scene. Made up of b&w concert footage shot in basements, ironic interviews with fans, and a goofy love story between two punks, the film features absolutely fantastic music by The Shakes, Hans Brinker and The Dykes, and The Cardboards. Not only is this film sorely in need of reappraisal, but someone should really issue a soundtrack, as The Cardboards were the only band to my knowledge to ever record in the studio, and only one 5-song 12" at that. Hearing the lead singer (Sesame Spinelli?) of The Dykes scream "I'M BORED, BORED, BORED" as the refrain to one of their songs is absolutely unforgettable, as is the classic feminist anthem "Give Me Hysterectomy"--right now the only way to hear these gems is to catch the film at one of its rare public screenings, or rent it from the distributor yourself.The Cardboards - Electrical Generator
Full album of Cardboards mp3s below the jump...
Boredom is perhaps the chief word here. The Cardboards' drummer, and ostensible star of the film, calls himself "Bill Bored", and indeed functions as the billboard for every disaffected youth in Pittsburgh c. 1980, of which there are legion. Making music, taking on fake names and crafting outrageous futuristic yarns is simply one of the most effective ways to alleviate tedium. The aforementioned EP, humorously titled Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Mom's Records, 1981), is a masterpiece of the idiom, and is excellently described by Kevin Smith over at Perfect Sound Forever. There is little I can add to his comments that would not be mere florid exaggeration, so I'll let his article speak for itself. The band was composed of members Max Haste, Bill Bored, Ron Solo, and someone simply known as "Ivan" (later replaced by a Marie Alexander). Their music is mainly played on an array of synthesizers and a drumset, though the film' songs feature some fun saxophone by Keith Teeth. I've never lived in Pittsburgh and I don't own this record, so I'll leave others to sort out biographical details, though the Myspace page gives a pretty thorough group history.
"Whereas Kraftwerk luxuriated in the perfect melding of the man-machine, the Cardboards seemed overanxious to get to that time which they knew might never arrive," writes Smith. I wholeheartedly agree, but I think there's an even simpler way to state the paradigm. Kraftwerk were serious, and the Cardboards weren't. They were playing at futurism, miming the rhetoric of the German forerunners, whereas Kraftwerk really believed all that shit about the studio-laboratory and the "pure sound"/origin of music. The Cardboards weren't Menschenmaschine who ignored the audience when they went on stage, but performed with spastic gusto in order to break up the monotony of everyday life. Nobody would ever say of them, like Lester Bangs did of Kraftwerk, "Still, it was somehow comforting to know that they did, apparently, sleep."
Here, in its entirety is The Cardboards' Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: